Eagles soar along Delaware River

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  • Copyright Stephen Davis Eagle takes a dive in the Delaware River.

  • Copyright Stephen Davis Eagle sunning itself.

“On any given day, you have a good chance of seeing our national emblem out and about,”
— Patricia Diness, Volunteer Coordinator at the Delaware Highlands Conservancy.

While the bald eagle may serve as the national emblem for the United States, it has also become an emblem of sorts for the region around the Delaware River.

Since its removal from the federal list on threatened and endangered species in 2007, the bald eagle has become a visible mainstay across the Pike County area.

Community members may even participate in eagle watching programs run by the Delaware Highlands Conservancy, which leads guided excursions to view and photograph the birds from mid-December through February.

Summer spotting
However, the novice eagle observer may wonder why these programs are unavailable during the summer time, when more and more people find themselves out exploring the region.

Patricia Diness, Volunteer Coordinator at the conservancy, said the public programs close after February to prevent interference with the eagles’ nesting.

From early March to the end of June, eagles are raising their young in the nest, Diness said. By July, the young begin to fledge from, or leave, the nest but remain near their parents for a few months to learn how to fly and fish.

Approaching the nests is discouraged so as not to make the eagles nervous and potentially abandon their nest.

“If you happen to know where there is a nest, don’t go around telling everybody,” Diness said. “Enjoy it yourself, keep it quiet because they are nervous birds in that they do not like a lot of fuss around their nests.”

However, she said “chances of viewing the bird are pretty high at any time and any place” by simply keeping an eye out in the skies.

This includes both adult and immature eagles, although the public may not realize it — immature eagles are entirely brown and do not grow the white head and tail that characterizes the national emblem until they are around five years old.

According to Diness, there are 18 nests along the Delaware River between Port Jervis and Hankins as well as on almost all large lakes in Pike and Wayne counties and on practically any of the other rivers, including the Lackawaxan.

The summer eagle population is still a significant decrease from that of the winter, due to upwards of 150 additional eagles joining the resident eagle population solely during this period, something Diness said also contributed to the lack of a summer eagle program at the Conservancy.

Increased numbers

Diness said there has been a definite increase of eagles all around in the past few years due to increased breeding as well as the many clean rivers in the region, which provide an eagle-friendly habitat.

“Mostly people are very aware of keeping the river clean and I think that’s why we’re so lucky in this area, that we do have that awareness,” Diness said. “If they can pass it on to the next generation, or to people coming from other areas that don’t have that knowledge from our area to keep the area clean, that would be good.”

While the environment may be thriving and the eagle may be removed from the endangered list, that does not mean that the birds have nothing to worry about.

As Director of the Delaware Valley Raptor Center, Bill Streeter said the federally and state licensed rehabilitation center finds itself providing medical attention to birds such as hawks, vultures, owls and bald eagles.

Streeter said the center is probably working with one to five bald eagles a year.

And while most birds of prey are hurt by cars, the biggest reason for the center to be working with bald eagles is due to gunshot wounds, as well as lead poisoning.

“A lot of it is just eagles living in an industrial society,” Streeter said.

The center, which also serves as an education platform, works to teach the public on how to prevent shootings as well as using non-lead fishing sinkers and non-lead copper shots.

If a bald eagle indirectly consumes a lead sinker inside its diet of fish and ducks, the bird has a short amount of time to receive medical attention to prevent the metal from absorbing throughout the blood stream.

Streeter said just last Labor Day weekend, the center found an eagle that had consumed something shot with a pellet gun, but not soon enough. Although the pellet was about the size of a grain of rice, it took only 24 hours to poison the eagle.

“Lead poisoning can happen anytime,” Streeter said. “The thing that makes it more hazardous in the summertime is that babies are young and unexperienced and just do stupid stuff.”

In fact, a lot of the calls Streeter said the center receives are related to the young eagles, such as finding themselves in harm’s way by lying around community roads or becoming too saturated with water while fishing that they are unable to fly.

Streeter said in these situations, the center keeps and feeds the baby for a day and then releases it back into the nest site. Within 24 hours, it usually has been reunited with its family.

While the public may be harmful towards eagles, Diness said the increasing population has no downside to any of the people in the area.

“On any given day, you have a good chance of seeing our national emblem out and about,” she said. “There’s nothing that the eagles do to the environment that is bad for people. We’re bad for them.”

For this reason, Diness stressed keeping the waterways clean, as well as keeping the location of the nesting sites as secretive as possible.

More information on the Delaware Highlands Conservancy can be found at delawarehighlands.org and more information on the Delaware Valley Raptor Center can be found at dvrconline.org.

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