Bald Eagles in the Lower Hudson Valley

From Alice and Sam Gerard’s picture window that looks out over an expanse of the Hudson, birds of prey are frequently spotted skimming across the river’s surface then soaring heavenward with their treasured catch. “We’ve seen considerably more eagles lately,” Alice commented one recent morning.

Many people aren’t aware that bald eagles have made a comeback and can be found during winter months along the Hudson. In recent years the stretch from Kingston to Croton has became increasing popular with bald eagles, according to New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, which holds an eagle count each January. They migrate to the Lower Hudson Valley in search of food from Canada and the U.S. North Woods, especially during hard winters when inland waters freeze. Ship traffic keeps our waterways open and fish killed by nearby power stations provide a ready meal for the birds.

Hawk watches take place in the fall on Hook and Bear Mountains. Conducted by knowledgeable volunteers, they attempt to monitor the migration and population patterns of birds of prey. Only five bald eagles were spotted in 1984. Ten years later, in 1994, 31 were listed. In 2005, 77 bald eagles were recorded. For a fascinating look at recent bird counts see Three years ago, Bear Mountain’s league of naturalists decided to do an evening count of roosting eagles at nine known locations and turned up between 150 to 200 bald eagles during peak season in late January and February of 2005.

There were fewer than 450 nesting pairs of bald eagles in the lower 48 states in the early 1960s as their habitat was destroyed and their food supply contaminated by DDT that made their eggshells so thin they cracked during incubation. In response to this dire situation the bald eagle was declared an endangered species in 1967. By 1995, as their numbers increased, their status was upgraded to “threatened.” The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is now moving forward to remove the bald eagle from the list of threatened and endangered species, which some environmentalists believe to be premature.

Eagles on average live about 30 years and frequently mate for life. These powerful fliers can reach speeds of 100 miles per hour during a dive and, with their excellent eyesight, can spot a rabbit a mile away. Adult males have a 7-foot wingspan, measure 30 to 42 inches head to tail and weigh 7 to 11 pounds. The larger females, some reaching 14 pounds, usually have one or two eaglets and breed in Ontario and Labrador in late April, using nests called aeries that are up to 8 feet wide. In recent years their nesting range has expanded southward.

At around four or five years of age juvenile bald eagles take on adult plumage with head and tail feathers turning white. Immature bald eagles are sometimes mistaken for golden eagles, which at maturity, are distinguished by striped gray banding on their tails. Other birds of prey in our area include osprey, peregrine falcons, northern harriers, turkey and black vultures, owls and a wide range of hawks.

The bald eagle is unique to North America. Over the objection of Benjamin Franklin, who felt that the turkey was considerably more respectable than the eagle, it was adopted in 1782 as a national symbol of the United States.

As the bald eagle population increases, bald eagle fests are springing up throughout the country. The nearest in our area is the Hudson River EagleFest to be held in Teatown, New York (Westchester) on Teatown Lake, February 11, 2007. The event will feature eagle viewing along the Hudson, live bird demonstrations and educational programs. Call 914-762-2912 or go online at for more information.

For those of us not lucky enough to have a view of the Hudson, bald eagles can frequently be spotted during the winter at the following locations: Route 6/202 overlook above Iona Island; Constitution Island from North Dock (West Point), Ansville Creek (north of Peekskill) and China Pier (Peekskill). Eagles can also be seen at Constitution Marsh, an Audubon Society Sanctuary just across the Bear Mountain Bridge. Composed of 270 acres of tidal marsh, Constitution Marsh’s trails and boardwalk are open all year.

For additional locations check the Rockland Audubon Society’s website, The Society holds its meetings the first Friday of every month at the Palisades Community Center with free programs on nature-related topics. All are welcome.