Larissa Smith, the Conserve Wildlife Foundation biologist who was involved in the recent South Jersey eaglet rescue, has been helping us understand what to expect next at the Duke Farms eagle nest throughout breeding season. Larissa Smith with a Bald Eagle she rescued last fall by wading through chest-deep mucky water in a marshy area in Cumberland County, N.J. Larissa also helped rescue three eaglets in recent weeks. The bottom line so far is that the chicks look healthy, and Larissa has no concerns at this point. During the chicks' current stage of development, they have been branching -- "strengthening their muscles as they flap, hover and hop around," says Larissa. "Eagles usually take their first flight between 10-12 weeks of age. "The first flight doesnt mean that theyll be soaring around the skies. It can be awkward, as many volunteer nest observers have reported. "Theyve seen eagles taking their first flights ending up crashing through branches and hanging by from a branch by their feet upside down. It is a learning process." According to Larissa, the eagles will remain in the area for a few weeks after their first flight, if not longer.
"Theyll be learning to fly and hunt on their own," Larissa says, "but how they catch their own food is a good question. Once the chicks fledge, the nest observers dont often see them again, so cant report on their behavior. "I assume that the newly fledged chicks learn to hunt by trail and error. I found an interesting article online about this subject." In the months, ahead the young Duke Farms eagles will face some tough challenges. "The mortality rate for first year eagles is quite high because they are learning how to survive," says Larissa, who estimates their chances of surviving the first year of life are less than 50 percent. Where they will go is hard to predict. Since 2011, the Endangered and Nongame Species Program and Conserve Wildlife Foundation have placed transmitters on several eagle chicks, which has given researchers the opportunity to see where these juveniles travel after fledging. "The transmitters have definitely shown that its difficult to predict their movements," Larissa says. While predicting the future for the two young Duke Farms eagles is difficult, Larissa says that for New Jersey Bald Eagles in general, "the future looks great. Their population has steadily been increasing." Larissa believes that the biggest threat to Bald Eagles in New Jersey is habitat destruction. "Its important that critical habitat be protected and preserved," she says. "Not only will protecting habitat benefit the eagles, but also all the wildlife and plants that use that area."
Got a question or suggestion? E-mail Jim at firstname.lastname@example.org
Jim Wright writes The Bird Watcher columnist for The Record and the Herald-News. He is the author of four coffee-table books about wild places, and the deputy marsh warden of the Celery Farm Natural Area in Allendale, N.J.