Page 72 - 2020 Southern New Jersey Vacationer
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Do You Have a Spark Bird? Consider the Bald Eagle
Estell Manor Park: Home of the Warren Fox Nature Center. 109 State Highway 50, Mays Landing, NJ. 609-625-1897.
Gaskill Park: Located at the bulkhead of the Great Egg Harbor River in Mays Landing, NJ 08330. Contact Park Headquarters at 609-625-8219.
Lake Lenape: 6303 Harding Highway in Mays Landing, NJ 08330. 609-625-8219.
Weymouth Furnace: Route 559 (Weymouth Road) just north of Route 322 in Mays Landing, NJ. 609-625-8219.
 A “SPARK BIRD” is the first bird species that catches your eye and piques your interest in other birds and their roles in the natural world. You may be sparked by any aspect of your intriguing new friend – its size, its looks, its behaviors or even its abundance.
Pretty much everyone knows what a bald eagle looks like because its image is all around us as our national bird and iconic symbol. The huge bird with its striking white head and broad white tail portrays the strength and majesty our forefathers envisioned for these United States of America. Once plentiful in North America, bald eagle populations, along with those of many other birds of prey, were decimated by persecution and pesticide use (primarily DDT) by the mid-20th century.
In 1970, New Jersey was home to only one nesting pair of bald eagles located in Cumberland County. DDT was banned in 1972 and over the past 40-plus years bald eagles have staged a steady recovery, thanks to the restoration and management efforts of the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife’s Endangered and Nongame Species Program (ENSP), the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey (CWF), and volunteer observers.
According to ENSP’s 2019 New Jersey Bald Eagle Project report, the Delaware Bay region remains the state’s “eagle stronghold,” with roughly half of the state’s 211 nest sites in Salem, Cumberland and Cape May counties. In 2019 alone, 19 new pairs of bald
eagles were found in southern New Jersey. New Jersey’s rivers and wetlands provide outstanding habitat for these fish-loving carnivores. Their nesting season is one of the earliest of all bird species in North America with many pairs incubating eggs by late January. Nests are quite large and are visible to the naked eye high in trees, especially during winter months when few leaves obscuring the view. A spotting scope may reveal one or two distinctive white heads popping up from the nest, carefully tending the eggs as the pair also tends to one another. Eggs hatch approximately six weeks after laying and young birds depart their nests, an act known
as fledging, within three months of hatching.
Here are a few fun facts about bald eagles:
• It takes over four years for an adult bald eagle to achieve its brilliant white head and tail. Along the way, it sports varying patterns of brown and white, which experts can use to estimate the ages of individual birds.
• Eagles have wingspans of up to eight feet, with the female being larger than the male.
• Bald eagles mate for life. They often return to the same nest year after year, adding a little bit here and there over time.
• Nests can reach up to ten feet wide and weigh over 1,000 pounds, although they look smaller when viewed from a safe distance. An observer once described an eagle nest looking like an upside-down VW Beetle.
• Eagles, as well as other birds of prey, can see four to five times farther than humans, the origin of the term “eagle eye.”
In a feat of aerial ballet, perhaps more likened to gymnastics, eagles are among the birds of prey known to engage in a fascinating behavior known as a “talon lock,” pictured here. Whether in territorial battle, courtship display, or perhaps youthful “playing,” their talons become intertwined, gravity takes over, and the two birds spin in circles toward the ground until one or both releases. On rare occasions, the birds do not disengage, and the resulting crash landing can be catastrophic.
Do you want to make the bald eagle your spark bird? Keep your eyes peeled while you visit Southern New Jersey. Check the tops of every electric pole for perched birds using their superior vision to find fish. Look for a dark mass out in the marsh, which may be a resting or feeding eagle. Most of all, look UP! Bald eagles move around their territories throughout the day and can soar as high as 10,000 feet. At lower elevations, their enormous wingspans and steady, purposeful flat profiles make them look like “flying doors.”
Find your spark bird with New Jersey Audubon, one of the state’s oldest and largest conservation non-profit organizations. Founded in 1897, it is one of the oldest independent Audubon societies in the United States. Take a guided walk, attend a workshop or one of their events, visit a center or just check out the wealth of information on its website, G

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