A pair of nesting eagles has been spied in Ridgefield Park, N.J. -- the closest yet to New York City since the symbolic bird staged its recovery from DDT more than 40 years ago.
"When I saw the eagles I almost fell over," said Gil Hawkins, executive director of the Overpeck Preserve in Bergen County, the state's most populous county just across the Hudson from Upper Manhattan.
Someone tipped off Hawkins in February and when he investigated, he spied the birds right away in a nest just three miles from West Harlem in Manhattan, as the crow, er, eagle flies.
He even took a photograph of the birds mating.
"I knew in my heart it was only a matter of time before a pair decided to take up housekeeping here," said Bill Sheehan, a local advocate known as the Hackensack River-keeper.
Hawkins agreed to show the nest to NBC New York, the first glimpse to the world outside his tight environmental community in a neighborhood of orphan landfills and decaying industry.
He said the nesting eagles are living on the edge of a former toxic Superfund site that is now cleaned up.
"To have them in the Meadowlands means that we're on the right track," Sheehan said.
Still protected by federal law, the bird is listed as endangered in New Jersey; there are believed to be fewer than 100 nesting pairs in the Garden State.
But that's an improvement from 1973 when there was only one known pair in the state, down on the Delaware River.
Widespread use of DDT as a pesticide following World War II was blamed for thinning their egg shells and effectively ending their ability to reproduce.
After its use was banned nationwide in 1972, eagles started recovering.
"Whoever would have thought that years ago when we were poisoning our fields with DDT that these eagles could come back in such a short period of time," Hawkins said.
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