HILLSBOROUGH, NJ - Nationwide, the Bald Eagle symbolizes America's strength, resolve and courage, and more recently, survival and resiliency.
Beset by insecticides, high wire electrocutions and illegal hunting, the survival of the Bald Eagle was precarious at best when In 1973, Congress passed the Endangered and Non-game Species Conservation Act to eliminate deadly pesticides that were weakening the shells of the eggs, strengthened laws to punish hunters and more importantly, launched a public education effort that continues today.
In less than 50 years, the Bald Eagle has made a strong comeback, when New Jersey could count just one pair of nesting Eagles in Cumberland County.
The latest census taken in 2019 identifies 211 nesting sites statewide monitored by volunteers who reported the hatching of 249 young eagles that survived and fledged. The census identified 27 new pairs of nesting Eagles according to the state Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Fish & Wildlife.
In Somerset County, Mother Nature has delivered once again, with two American Bald Eagle chicks cracking their eggs and stretching their tiny wings less than two weeks ago in a sturdy nest atop an 80-foot Sycamore tree at Duke Farms.
The two eggs first appeared in the adult Eagles nest Feb. 20th and 24th, with the first egg hatching Feb. 26th at 11:15 a.m folllowed by the second at 1:15 p.m March 1st.
The activity in the Eagle nest is a familiar site to millions of online visitors. The predators have achieved "rock star" status in classrooms and homes across the state and the country thanks to video cameras that have been installed overhead with live feeds available online.
The link to the Duke Farms "Eagle Cam" is dukefarms.org/eaglecam.
There is a new female Bald Eagle in the Duke Farms nest this season, the third female to occupy the nest. The male partner, nearly 20 years old, has sired over 25 bald eagle chicks since the nest creation in 2004. This third, new female somehow replaced the second female at the end of the 2019 nesting season, possibly in mid-September.
It usually takes five weeks for the eggs to hatch, with the birds growing rapidly, ready to fly 10-12 weeks after hatching.
The adult Eagles continue to pay close attention to their offspring after warming the eggs the for five weeks. They will now focus on feeding their young. Trout and other fish can be seen in the nest. The parents take turns ripping pieces of flesh from the fish and placing it in the beaks of the tiny offspring.
Withing 5-6 weeks, the fluffy, white down on the young chicks will be replaced by darker feathers.
The eagle nest at Duke Farms was discovered by Duke Farms staff in the fall of 2004. In the fall of 2012, Hurricane Sandy's 70+ mph winds tore off the upper half of the nest tree, destroying the nest completely. The pair built a new nest 100 feet south of the original site in late December 2012, which is still actively used.
The so-called "Eagle Cam" transmitted the first video in March 2008. In the fall of 2013, the camera was moved to the new nest tree. The camera was struck by lightning shortly before the eaglets fledged in 2015, but a new camera with infrared for night viewing was installed prior to the 2016 nesting season.
The camera is positioned to view the nest from above. The camera can be maneuvered remotely to pan, tilt and zoom and can be viewed 24 hours a day. The site averages more than one million views annually.
Duke Farms hosts the eagle camera and the internet connection. The Endangered and Non-Game Species Program and the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of NJ conduct on-site banding and provide biological consulting and support.