Raptor Report: Eagles and Falcons Continue to Soar Above Garden State

More than 100 communities across state are home to at least one nest -- including Jersey City

Fourteen new couples made New Jersey their home last year — couples with feathers and nests for homes.

Three decades after they were nearly wiped in the state, bald eagles are increasing at a faster percentage than people. According to the state Division of Fish and Wildlife’s 2013 report of the Bald Eagle Project, there were 148 nests located throughout the state, reflecting a 10 percent increase.

The number of peregrine falcon nests in the state remained stable at 26, the division said in last year’s report on falcons.

Taking those two types of raptors together, 108 municipalities throughout the state hosted at least one nest. Thanks in part to biologists and naturalists, even some cities have a raptor nest — a Jersey City skyscraper is home to the popular Falcon Cam, taken over this year by the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey.

While the birds were spread through every county, the greatest concentration was in the three southern counties bordering the Delaware River: Salem, Cumberland, and Cape May. Downe Township in Cumberland had eight nests, more than any other municipality. But nearby Greenwich Township had the most birds fledged (with wings large enough for flight) — a dozen eaglets.

The status of another raptor in the state is even brighter. Last year was the first in probably half a century in which New Jersey had more than 500 nesting pairs of osprey — at least 542, according to the state’s 2013 report. Nests can be found from the Meadowlands down through Cape May and two young were fledged from 405 of the nests for which outcomes were known. Specific locations of all the nests are not available in the report.

“Thanks to input from many volunteers and ‘Osprey Watchers’ we passed this historic
number of 500 pairs, which is the estimated population before DDT and habitat loss decimated
ospreys in the 1950s-1960s,” according to “The 2013 Osprey Project in New Jersey.”

While none of the three raptors are on the federal endangered or threatened species list, they are in New Jersey. Like the osprey, falcons and eagles were at the brink of extirpation (elimination within the state) before the enactment 41 years ago of the New Jersey Endangered and Nongame Species Conservation Act. The law is meant to protect species whose survival in the state is at risk due to loss of habitat, pollution, or other factors.

State officials partner with volunteers from groups like Conserve Wildlife to increase the bird populations in the state and they have met with much success.

In the case of the falcon, pesticides like DDT diminished the population in the Eastern United States from about 350 in the 1930s and 1940s to no active breeding pairs in the 1960s and 1970s, according to the 2013 report of the Peregrine Falcon Research and Management Program. State officials and the Peregrine Fund began working with one site at Sedge Islands Wildlife Management Area in Barnegat Bay in 1975 and then expanded it to other sites. In 1980, the falcons began wild nesting and in 1993, the population stabilized. Last year, the population increased slightly, the report states, with nests on towers, buildings, bridges, and cliffs producing an average of nearly 2.2 young each.

“Management of nesting pairs and nest sites is essential to maintain peregrines in New Jersey,” the report concludes. “With site management and the cooperation of bridge and building staff,
these sites can contribute to population viability and stability.”

The future for bald eagles in the state is even brighter. The use of DDT, banned in 1972, has been blamed largely for the steep decline in the population of this symbol of the United States. While there had historically been about 20 nesting pairs of bald eagles in the Delaware Bay region of New Jersey, there was only one left by 1970. To help the species come back, state biologists had to foster chicks into the remaining nest in Bear Swamp in Cumberland County and released 60 young eagles in the state over eight years during the 1980s.

“That ban (DDT), combined with restoration and management efforts by biologists within the Division of Fish and Wildlife’s Endangered and Nongame Species Program (ENSP), resulted in population increases to 23 pairs by 2000, 48 pairs by 2005, and 82 pairs by 2010,” according to the eagle report.

Of 148 territorial pairs of eagles, 119 laid eggs and 96 successfully produced 176 young eagles, roughly 1.5 per nest, which is better than what is needed for population maintenance, the report states.

Still, the eagles need help. According to the report, “with increasing competition for space in the most densely populated state in the nation, it is clear that critical habitat needs to be identified and, where possible, protected.”