On June 2, a dead bald eagle was discovered along a road in Henrietta, Monroe County, New York. It had just killed a rabbit when it was apparently hit by a car. Collisions like these cause nearly a third of known eagle deaths in the state. According to the band on the male’s leg, he was 38 years old, and he now holds the country’s record for the oldest bald eagle ever encountered, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation announced in a statement this week. It broke the previous longevity record by five years.
This eagle, state officials say, is a testament to the conservation and restoration work done under the Bald Eagle Restoration Project. The program was initiated in 1976 to reestablish a breeding population following the national DDT ban in 1972 and the federal Endangered Species Act of 1973, which prohibited killing bald eagles.
In just over a dozen years, a total of 198 nestling bald eagles were collected from other states, raised with minimal human contact (called hacking), and released in New York. When the wildly successful hacking program ended in 1988, it had surpassed its goal of 10 nesting pairs. There are 350 pairs in New York today. Until the program, the state was home to one, unproductive bald eagle nest on Hemlock Lake, and sadly, the male from that last native pair was shot in 1980.
This new record-setting eagle was one of five young eagles raised and released at Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge during the program’s second year. He was brought over as a nestling from Lake Puposky in northern Minnesota, and he was banded as 03142 when he was a few months old in Seneca Falls on August 5, 1977. When he reached breeding age in 1981, he began nesting at Hemlock Lake, part of the Hemlock-Canadice State Forest. He went on to become a steady and successful father to many eaglets.
When 03142 was banded nearly four decades ago, the team “had no idea how very special and significant this young bald eagle would become to our nascent bald eagle restoration program,” retired state wildlife biologist Peter Nye recalls in a statement. “Based on his recent recovery near this site, we have to assume he has been the resident male, breeding here for the past 34 years. That's quite a stretch, and likely a record in itself.”
Nye adds: “His longevity, 38 years, although ingloriously cut short by a motor vehicle, is also a national record for known lifespan of a wild bald eagle. All I can say is, hats off too you 03142; job well done!"
Images: shutterstock.com (top), Pete Nye (middle)