Caught on Camera, Two Bald Eagles Rebuild After the Storm

HILLSBOROUGH, N.J. – The national bird has proved itself Jersey Strong.

Among those displaced by the havoc of Hurricane Sandy was a pair of bald eagles who had nested since 2005 in the curve of a sycamore tree at Duke Farms, the park and environmental learning center on the estate of Doris Duke, the tobacco heiress.

Like Doris Duke herself, the eagles had become something of a sensation: more than 7.6 million people had watched them on a webcam.

After the storm toppled the nest, state wildlife officials suggested putting up a dummy one to lure the eagles back.

But within a week of the storm, the eagles started the rebuilding themselves, in another tree within 100 feet of their prior home. Now, after a little trimming of branches in the sight line last month, the Duke Farms eagles are live on webcam again — and this week, two eggs, or probable eggs, were spotted in the nest.

“Not only did they defy the odds initially and nest here, but they came back,” said Nora Wagner, director of programs at Duke Farms.

Eagles, their eggs once weakened by the pesticide DDT, are no longer on the federal government’s list of endangered species. But New Jersey still considers them endangered during nesting season (January to August) and “threatened” the rest of the year. There are 121 nesting pairs statewide, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection, up from just one in the 1980s.

This pair was the first documented on the banks of the Raritan River, and one of two to lose their home in the storm. (The other nest, in West Deptford, near Camden, was not on webcam.)

One day last week, the camera caught the eagles courting, which consists, quaintly, of bringing each other sticks and grasses to help build their nest. They flew out and returned a few hours later to share a fish for lunch.

Hurricane Sandy knocked down about 2,000 trees in the central 600 acres of Duke Farms. The saving grace was that the storm hit with plenty of time before nesting season, allowing the birds, who have already fledged 14 bald eagles in the last five years, to get a jump on rebuilding before the next babies arrive.

Thom Almendinger, the director of stewardship at Duke Farms, said the nest that was knocked down was 12 feet wide, and the new one is already about 5 feet around.

Duke Farms officials won’t tell visitors where exactly the nest is; the law prohibits anyone getting within about 1,000 feet during nesting season, and given that it’s 80 feet up a tree, it’s easier to see from the webcam.

After this year’s nesting season, Mr. Almendinger said, staff members will add sound to the camera and adjust it so viewers can see the nest from above, rather than the side. But look for coming attractions even before then: any eggs in the nest should hatch within the next month.

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