For the first time in at least a century, a pair of bald eagles has shacked up in New York City. Spotted by a tugboat captain in early January, the couple seems to have made a nest on a small uninhabited island just off the coast of Staten Island.

As you might expect, raptors relocating to the Big Apple is a good sign for population numbers statewide. The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation estimates that 254 nesting pairs of bald eagles now call the state home. The number jumps even higher in the winter, when birds from Canada and Alaska fly south in search of food and open waters.

Now, the DEC has released a revised plan for bald eagle management and conservation in New York, and public input is requested.

A Troubled History

The bald eagle has a body length of 28–40 inches, and females (the larger of the sexes) can weigh up to 12 pounds. Photo credit: Paul Malinowski via Creative Commons.

It hasn’t always been easy for bald eagles—in New York, or throughout the United States. The decline of our national bird actually began as far back as the early 1900s, when shooting them for sport was common practice, and logging and other development quickly destroyed eagle habitat. Pesticides like DDT also accelerated the birds’ decline, and by 1970, only one active bald eagle nest remained in New York.

An intensive monitoring and restoration program began in the late 1970s to slowly rebuild the nesting population. The NYS DEC relied primarily on a technique called hacking to increase eagle populations. Hacking involves hand-rearing and releasing older nestlings in the absence of parent birds.

Nearly 200 eaglets (collected mostly from wild nesting pairs in Alaska) were released between 1976 and 1988; by the end of the program, ten nesting bald eagle pairs had been established in New York State.

With additional protection and management, New York’s eagle population has continued to grow. In 1999, the bald eagle was downlisted at the state level from endangered to threatened, and the breeding bald eagle population has experienced a consistent annual increase every year.

A Plan for the Future

The plumage of the immature bald eagle is a dark brown overlaid with messy white streaking until the fifth year, when it reaches sexual maturity. Photo credit: Jeremy N. Moore / USFWS

The new management plan establishes objectives for maintaining bald eagle population in New York. It describes the historic and current status of the bald eagle in the state and provides guidelines for future management actions.

Joe Martens, NYS DEC Conservation Commissioner, noted in a press release that “conservation of the bald eagle and its habitat plays an important role in preserving our biodiversity and ecosystem health. The plan aims to maintain the bald eagle’s geographic diversity and ultimately ensure a healthy population within the state.”

Key objectives of the conservation plan are:

  1. To maintain a statewide average breeding bald eagle population of at least 200 breeding pairs;
  2. Maintain protection of our significant wintering bald eagle population; and
  3. Monitor breeding and wintering bald eagles in New York State at a level suitable to detect significant trends in their populations.

Key actions include minimizing impacts from land clearing, human disturbance, pollutants, and collisions with vehicles, power lines and wind turbines.

Public comments on the plan will be accepted through April 10. To comment, send an e-mail to: with “Bald Eagle” in subject line.

Additional information about the NYS DEC bald eagle plan can be found on their website.