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Why the Eagles Returned


Hancock here:

Peter said it all! 

Peter Nye has been studying New York eagles since 1976 when he started the NY bald eagle reintroduction project.  From the early 1980s he spent his summers collecting eaglets from Alaskan nests.  These were of course the nests my friend, Jim King, had first surveyed by air and then Jack Hodges had expanded with his boat surveys.  Northern Alaskan bald eagles from Admiralty and Chichagof Islands became the new breeding stock that Peter Nye collected for the New York introduction. The full story of Peter Nye's NY eagles and their origin is given in the book Bald Eagles in Alaska by Bruce Wright & Phil Schempf (Hancock House 2010).



The same process had happened a few years earlier when our British Columbia Peales Peregrine Falcons from the Queen Charlotte Islands became the brood stock for the first captive breed stock of peregrines being released into the eastern US.  In 1967 I had collected this stock on Frederick Island and Langara Islands, QCI -- now Haida Gwaii -- and passed on two unrelated chicks to Dr. Heinz Meng in NY.   Frank Beebe and I had been breeding captive peregrines for a few years and my agreement with Heinz was he could not fly the pair loose as falconry birds and risk loosing this valuable breeding stock, only use them for breeding purposes.  Not only did Heinz breed them but he fledged their offspring as the first captive peregrines released in the US.  So in a way I am the foster parent of the peregrines bred and released into the US. After these Peales falcon offspring were released they bred on one of the NY Bridges. Then next year Dr Meng donated these breeders, the falcons I had sent him, to Dr. Tom Cade as the start of the Cornell Peregrine Fund Breeding Project.

So the Northeast bald eagles and the peregrines have their recent genetic roots from along the Alaska and British Columbia coasts.  Later genetic studies will probably find all this quite confusing. The genes from our Peales falcons at the Cornell Project disseminated west coast peregrines genes around North America -- and then I suspect to other countries.

Now, over 35 years later, 200 hacked eagles and the NY - Pennsylvania breeding population of nesting eagles has gone from one pair to over 600 pairs. That is success.

It is interesting to understand the difference of how the northeast lost its eagles -- due to habitat loss and DDT poisoning.  Here in the west, we certainly had and continue to have eagle habitat degraded but the big losses of eagles happened due to our human attitudes against predators -- and the Alaskan Bald Eagle bounty that paid Americans to shoot our eagles. The Alaskan fisherman wintering in Washington State ports had shot out the local breeding eagles by the late 1950's so my earliest aerial surveys of the Washington San Juan Islands, from the BC border to Seattle, revealed not a single pair of breeding bald eagles.

This following video tells the NY story beautifully: 

David Hancock

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