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January 13, 2000

For more information contact:
Larry Niles at 609-292-9410

According to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection's Division of Fish and Wildlife, 115 bald eagles and 4 golden eagles were counted by more than 100 volunteers who participated in the annual statewide Mid-Winter Eagle Survey held January 8 & 9.

"Although this year's tally is down considerably from the record count of 1997 when nearly 180 eagles were counted, it's up from last year and continues the rising trend in eagle numbers that began in the early 1980s," said Division Director Bob McDowell. "Eagle numbers have not only been increasing in New Jersey, but throughout the Northeast and lower 48 states. Wildlife biologists attribute the lower count to poor weather conditions during the survey and relatively mild temperatures."

The New Jersey survey is part of a nationwide effort to assess the number of eagles wintering in the lower 48 states. This is just one of many projects funded by contributions to the state's "Conserve Wildlife Income Tax Check-Off." The survey takes place the same time each year and focuses on known eagle wintering areas throughout the Garden State. In North Jersey this includes the upper Delaware River from the Water Gap to Port Jervis, and most of the major reservoirs such as Round Valley, Merrill Creek, Boonton and Wanaque. In the south, surveyors center on the major river systems flowing into the Atlantic Ocean and Delaware Bay.

According to South Jersey Survey Coordinator Patricia Sutton of the Cape May Bird Observatory, a total of 58 adults and 33 immature bald eagles were tallied by volunteers searching the tributaries flowing into the Atlantic Ocean and Delaware Bay. Allen Ambler, survey coordinator for the upper Delaware River said his volunteers counted four adults and two immature bald eagles. Volunteers surveying the reservoirs and impoundments of North Jersey tallied 10 adult and eight immature bald eagles. Also counted in the survey were one adult and four immature golden eagles.

"The count, which was down in some parts of the state, was most likely due to the mild temperatures and lack of ice cover on many bodies of water, said Larry Niles, chief of the Division's Endangered and Nongame Species Program. "The mild weather that has graced the Northeast during the late fall and early winter has left many waters ice-free. As a result, fewer eagles have been forced south to open waters. Even the eagles that are here are more likely to be widely spread and in areas that we don't normally survey due to the lack of ice covered waters."

Many of the adult eagles counted in southern New Jersey are birds that breed here. Since the nesting season is just a few weeks away, many resident eagles were observed close to known nests. During past surveys, volunteers have witnessed nest building activity and mating behavior that eventually led to the discovery of new nests.

New Jersey residents who have donated to the "Conserve Wildlife Tax Check-Off" on the state income tax form can take pride in knowing they have helped to restore the bald eagle population in the Garden State. Since 1982, funding from the "Tax Check-Off" has helped to pay for the acquisition and release of more than 60 Canadian bald eagles in South Jersey. Last year, there were 21 active eagle nests in the Garden State. Given the amount of available habitat and increased eagle production over the past few years, wildlife biologists expect eagle nesting to continue to increase in the state.

Niles warns, however, that, "Despite our successes with the bald eagle and many other rare species, funding for endangered and threatened species protection and management is in severe jeopardy." Revenues from the Income Tax Check-Off for Wildlife, the program's main funding source, have fallen sharply in recent years. Check-off revenues have gone from a high of about $510,000 in 1989 to just $250,000 last year. "If this trend continues, it will threaten our ability to protect and manage eagles and many other rare species that depend on our continued actions for survival in New Jersey," he added. This year, taxpayers will have a choice between five competing check-offs on the state income tax form.

For those who have never thrilled to the sight of a bald eagle in the wild, New Jersey offers excellent viewing opportunities during the winter months. In northern New Jersey, areas such as Poxono Island, Wallpack Bend and the Route 206 bridge near Milford, PA offer excellent opportunities for viewing eagles on the upper Delaware River.

In south Jersey, the upper Delaware Bay in Salem County and the Cohansey and Mullica rivers are productive areas for viewing eagles. Along the Atlantic Coast, the Great Egg Harbor and Brigantine National Wildlife Refuge also offer good eagle viewing opportunities. Observers are reminded that the winter months are stressful times for eagles and other wildlife species, and disturbance can be detrimental. When observing perched or roosting eagles maintain a minimum distance of 300-400 yards from the birds.

For additional wildlife viewing opportunities, the Division offers the NJ Wildlife Viewing Guide, a full-color, 160-page publication that showcases 87 sites throughout the state where people can observe and learn about New Jersey's incredible array of wildlife and the variety of habitats that support it. Sites are organized by region, each accompanied by directions, an ecological description, viewing opportunities and facility/amenity information. To order, send a check or money order for $14.90 (price includes shipping), payable to the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife, P.O. Box 400, Trenton, NJ 08625-0400, Attn: Viewing Guide