Bald Eagles Nesting in Cape May

Cape May, NJ – In a tangle of vines and tree limbs, set far away from roads and people,  a pair of bald eagles is nesting below the canal  on Cape Island.  Barely visible above the nest’s thicket of branches almost a thousand feet away, an adult eagle pokes its white head out of the nest, while attending to the job at hand.

In Cape May, known as a mecca for migrating birds, nesting eagles are a relatively new phenomenon. Back in the 1970′s, there was only one Bald Eagle nest in the entire state of New Jersey. That nest was in the remote and wild Bear Swamp in Cumberland County. The species almost went extinct within the state.

For several years now, adult eagles have been spotted hanging around the Higbee Beach Wildlife Management Area, near the Delaware Bayshore. In the last couple of years these birds have not only nested, but have raised young successfully.  And this is not the only eagle nest close by.

Bald Eagle by Ed Solan

Mike Crewe, Program Director for the Cape May Bird Observatory, says there are now about eight to ten eagle nests in Cape May County,  including several in the lower part of the Peninsula.  Crewe points out that there is one in the Fishing Creek area of Lower Township and another nest almost adjacent to the Garden State Parkway, south of the Wildwood Exit. Other active nests are in northern Cape May County.

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection forbids approaching nests, for fear that they will be disturbed.  However, you might see the birds soaring in the air, on the way to and from the nest, from January through May.

The nest  in the Higbee Beach Wildlife Area seems to have produced young for at least two years, with three young being fledged there in 2011. Those are likely the same eagles that frequently soar over the fields along Bayshore Road and Sunset Boulevard, as well as Cape May Point.

Once endangered in the United States, Bald Eagles might be the fastest growing bird species in New Jersey. As of 2011, there were 113 nests in New Jersey which produced more than 100 young!

The birds are thriving not only in New Jersey; they are becoming much more common across the entire country.

In Virginia for example,  there are now more than 800 nesting pairs of Bald Eagles that add hundreds of young birds per year to the population. Many attribute the surge in the eagle population, in part, to the banning of  the pesticide DDT back in the 1970′s.

If the Cape May County nests are an indication., Bald Eagles seem to be adapting to nesting and foraging in residential or even semi-urban habitats.

With the growing numbers of eagle fledglings, we can look forward to seeing many more eagle nests in Cape May County in the years to come.

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About Paul Kerlinger

Paul Kerlinger, Ph.D. is a scientist, author and nationally known expert on bird migration. He's done extensive studies on hawks, Snowy Owls and neotropical song birds. Kerlinger is the former director of the Cape May Bird Observatory, His books include How Birds Migrate and Flight Strategies of Migrating Hawks. He's an ardent fly fisherman and organic vegetable gardener.