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Bald Eagle Program

The Loss of New York's Bald Eagles

During the 1800s and early 1900s, New York was home to more than 70 nesting pairs of bald eagles, and was the chosen wintering grounds of several hundred. By 1960, the state had only one known active bald eagle nest remaining, and the number of wintering visitors had been reduced to less than a few dozen.

bald eagle in flight
Adult bald eagle in flight
young bald eagles in nest
Bald eagle chicks in their nest

It had taken decades of indiscriminate killing, along with increasing competition for habitat and the widespread use of harmful new chemicals, to nearly destroy New York's bald eagles. Just as human activity was disrupting more and more eagle habitat, DDT and other organochlorine compounds were contaminating prey species and accumulating in the eagles' bodies, with the unanticipated effect of thinning their eggshells until they could no longer survive incubation.

How Bald Eagles Returned to New York

A national ban on DDT in 1972, prohibitions against taking or killing bald eagles in the federal Endangered Species Act of 1973, and the initiation of New York's Endangered Species Program in 1976 began a dramatic turnaround for our national symbol.

New York's Bald Eagle Restoration Project undertook an unprecedented goal - to bring back a breeding population of eagles to New York by importing young birds from other states and hand rearing them to independence (a process known as hacking). Between 1976 and 1988, biologists collected 198 nestling bald eagles, most of them from Alaska. They transported the eaglets to suitable habitats in New York, provided food while the birds became accustomed to their new environment, and released them when they were able to fly.

The hacked eagles thrived, returning to New York to nest and breed. By 1989, the hacking project had reached its goal of establishing 10 breeding pairs, and was ended. Today, more than 170 pairs of eagles nest in the state.

DEC biologist checks the condition of a young bald eagle (hooded to keep it calm)
DEC biologist checks the
condition of a young bald
eagle (hooded to keep it calm)

Keeping New York's Eagles Healthy

With a viable population of bald eagles re-established, the DEC bald eagle program now concentrates on:

  • Understanding the problems faced by eagles in New York
  • Identifying, managing and protecting essential breeding and wintering habitats
  • Identifying movement patterns, migratory pathways and the locations where New York's wintering eagles breed
  • Monitoring contaminant levels in eagles in New York
  • Identifying causes of mortality in bald eagles
  • Monitoring developments that might affect eagles and their habitats, and providing mitigation where needed
  • Protecting eagle habitat

Bald Eagle Research

DEC's eagle program participates in a variety of research programs. The national Midwinter Bald Eagle Survey includes both aerial and ground observation conducted by DEC and public cooperators. In cooperation with the National Park Service, DEC is involved in a multi-year intensive study to determine the essential habitats and behaviors of bald eagles on the Upper Delaware River.

The department has been satellite-radio tagging migrant bald eagles since 1992, and is now tagging fledglings from New York State nests with solar-powered transmitters. By observing the tagged fledglings, DEC learns: location of home ranges; how the birds move across the landscape during initial dispersal from the nest and later; how many young birds survive; differences in movements, essential habitats and nest site selection between nest-mates, between genders and among nestlings from neighboring nests. Results of DEC's bald eagle research are reported annually.

Monitoring and Management

New York's eagle program features intensive searching for and confirmation of new breeding pairs, along with monitoring of known breeding pairs of bald eagles. Program staff try to verify every report of adult eagles during the nesting season, to locate or confirm any new nests, and to visit every known bald eagle nesting location in the state.

DEC biologist at eagle nest
DEC biologist at eagle nest
solar transmitter on young bald eagle
Young bald eagle wearing
solar-powered satellite transmitter

These nest visits have several purposes:

  • Inspect the integrity of nests
  • Assess protection/management needs of the site
  • Collect blood samples from select locations
  • Collect addled eggs
  • Obtain a GPS (global position system) location
  • Determine site conditions and management needs
  • Predator-proof the nest tree
  • Identify and collect prey items
  • Interact with landowners and garner their support
  • Inspect any eaglets for disease, parasites or deformities
  • Band the young
  • Determine annual productivity

How You Can Help

For details about these activities of New York's bald eagle program, read the program annual reports linked from this page. If you want to help protect and manage bald eagles, sign up to participate in the Mid-Winter Bald Eagle Survey (link leaves DEC website) or report your observations of bald eagles to DEC.