BALD EAGLES ON THE
UPPER DELAWARE RIVER VALLEY

The following was written and published by the National Park Service, the U.S. Department of the Interior, and is published on this site with permission from the National Park Service Office in Narrowsburg, NY.

The Upper Delaware River Valley and its watershed provides ideal habitat for the bald eagle -- clean water, ample food, and undisturbed stands of large deciduous and coniferous trees for roosting, perching and nesting. But until recently, your chances of actually seeing an eagle along the Upper Delaware were slim. That is changing, thanks to recent cooperative efforts to improve environmental conditions and to re-establish the bald eagle in the eastern United States. During the winter, when lakes and rives freeze, bald eagles from the northern portions of the United States and Canada leave their nests and move southward to areas, like the Upper Delaware, with open water and reliable food supplies. With proper technique and planning, winter eagle-watching in the Upper Delaware Valley is becoming a popular off-season activity. Well over 100 bald eagles visit this area each winter.

History:

A century ago, more than 70 pairs of bald eagles nested in New York State; by 1960, that number was reduced to a single known active nest. Hundreds of eagles had wintered along the Upper Delaware; by the 1960s, a sighting was rare.

Why?

  • Human competition for and loss of habitat.
  • Heavy use of pesticides, especially DDT, which inhibits successful reproduction.
  • Large numbers of eagles killed indiscriminately prior to federal protection under the Bald Eagle Act of 1940.

The outlook for the bald eagle, however, is increasingly promising. While still protected by the Bald Eagle Act, eagles in most states have been upgraded from "endangered species" to "threatened," largely due to intensive protection and restoration efforts. The banning of DDT in 1972 was among recent inroads made toward a cleaner environment, which also benefited eagle populations.

Regionally, the Upper Delaware River has played an important role in this population growth. Both New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and Pennsylvania Game Commission have had bald eagle restoration or "hacking" programs. Along with efforts in recent years to keep the water clean, the fish abundant, and the habitat undisturbed, the programs have been so successful that six active bald eagle nests were documented along or near the Upper Delaware River in 1994. More are expected with each passing year, provided we maintain suitable conditions for eagles.

 

Characteristics of the Bald Eagle:

Height: 30 inches

Weight: 8-12 pounds

Wing span: 6-7 feet

Color: Adult: (by about 5 years) white head and tail, dark brown body and wings, bright yellow beak.

            Immature: chocolate brown mottled with white, brownish beak.

 

Field Identification:

The bald eagle is one of the largest birds in the Northeast. In profile, as it flies toward you, its wings are held straight out; the more common turkey vulture soars with its wings held in a V-shape. As the eagle passes overhead, the feathers at the tips of its wings are widely separated, and its relatively short tail is usually fanned open.

Male and female eagles look identical, although females are usually the larger of the two.

Bald eagles are predominantly fish eaters, which is why they build their nests and live near water and why they migrate to open water areas like the Upper Delaware region in the winter. However, when times are tough, they are very opportunistic and will eat birds, small mammals and carrion (dead animals).

Bald eagles normally mate for life, but will secure other mates if one is lost. Both partners are involved with nest building and feeding the young. Females lay 1-3 eggs and incubate them for 35 days. The young remain in the nest for 3 months, and are fully grown when they fledge (fly from the nest). By 5 months, the immature eagles leave the nesting area. Migratory immatures often return to the general vicinity (within 200 miles) of birth when they reach maturity and are ready to find a mate and build a nest. A bald eagle can live in the wild for as long as 30 years.

 

Where to find eagles along the Upper Delaware:

The Upper Delaware River offers several eagle viewing spots where creeks and other rivers meet the Delaware.

The best viewing places usually have lots of open water with tall trees lining the shore.

Good viewing with parking areas and public river accesses are at Callicoon, New York; and Lackawaxen, Pennsylvania. Other open areas may be seen from NY Route 97 (Minisink Ford, Barryville, Pond Eddy).

To the north toward Hancock, eagles can also be seen at Lordville, NY; Equinunk, PA; and the Buckingham, PA, Access.

In New York, there are two well-marked viewing areas in the Mongaup Valley on the Rio and Mongaup Falls reservoirs (off NY Route 42). There is an information/observation booth at Mongaup Falls.

Eagle Etiquette:

Before beginning you eagle viewing adventure, please first visit the following site: The Eagle Institute

Reprinted with permission of the National Park Service.

For more information on eagle watching in the area, go to our Links Page.