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Two decades of breeding on the Upper Delaware

Young eagles are now in most area nests; this five week old is one of a trio of young. Upper Delaware eagles enjoy favorable habitat and plentiful food within the corridor.
TRR photo by Scott Rando


May 29, 2013

People who come to visit the Upper Delaware region frequently want to know where they can see eagles. Bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) can be found year round in the region, with winter being the better time due to the influx of migrant eagles from Canada. They can also be seen in the summer, but most of these are resident breeding eagles and their offspring, which fledge in early July.

Resident, breeding bald eagles abound in our region, with nearly 20 breeding pair in the 73-mile stretch of river between Port Jervis and Hancock, NY, thanks to efforts by state wildlife agencies and volunteer citizen groups. But there was a time when eagles were a rare sight; I grew up in the region and never saw one in the wild during that time (1960s and ‘70s). The effects of DDT had almost extirminated our national symbol from New York State and Pennsylvania.

New York started re-introduction of bald eagles in 1976, headed by biologist Peter Nye, but it wasn’t until 1993 when the first pair of eagles was spotted on the Upper Delaware River. The pair was unsuccessful in breeding during the first two years, but the third year was a charm, with three young successfully fledged. In 1998, a second pair established a territory within the Upper Delaware corridor, and there has been a steady increase in the number of breeding pair along the river. Since eagles will usually establish a territory within 50 to 100 miles from their natal nests (where they were hatched), many of the newer established territories were likely occupied by eagles hatched from river nests. Other states followed up with their own programs; Pennsylvania started re-introduction in 1983.

As more nests are established in the river corridor, eagle territories are being found closer together; some nests are just over a mile apart. Eagles, being highly defensive of their territory, are interacting aggressively with each other to protect their territory. Loss of habitat due to development is the biggest threat to area eagles in the region today, but the National Park Service, the states and citizen groups are trying to work together to ensure that habitat loss is held to a minimum. With a team effort, we can ensure there is still room for eagles at the “Haliaeetus Hotel.”