The Eagles Have Landed: Hundreds Wintering Near NYC

Roughly 20 miles or so north of New York City, bald eagles, once on the verge of extinction in the Lower 48 States, are now being counted in the hundreds.

"It suggests if we're serious about addressing environmental ills, we can be successful," said Christopher Letts of the Hudson River Foundation.

Letts has been charting the eagles comeback in the Lower Hudson Valley for nearly 20 years now, and estimates this winter there are as many as 300 of them within 10 miles of one popular viewing spot, in the village of Verplanck.

We saw them floating on ice floes in the middle of the Hudson River looking for a tasty fish to eat and soaring above the riverbanks as well as perched on tree limbs.

"They're so impressive in their color, the bald head, the white tail--they're the national symbol," said Craig Stevens, a longtime bird watcher.

Whenever they were perched nearby, people would crane their necks or take out cameras to photograph them, and the Lower Hudson Valley now has an annual EagleFest(though it was canceled this year, apparently due to bad weather).

While there are a handful or two of year round nesting pairs in the Lower Hudson, most of the eagles spotted at this time or year have come south for the winter.

Letts said this is where they can find the open waters to feed them through the long winter as opposed to the ice covered rivers and bays in the Canadian Arctic.

But he also said that for many juvenile birds(which don't sport the distinctive white crown yet), this is the time and place for a little mating action, appropriate he said "on Valentine's Day."

"For them, "It's their post graduate school," Letts said.

When the ice recedes on the Hudson, most of them will head back north. But until then, hundreds of people are enjoying the sight of a bird almost killed off by the pesticide DDT.

And the progress since Rachel Carson's book 'Silent Spring,' published nearly half a century ago is proof to the Hudson River Foundation's Letts that we can have "a grand success story."

Follow Brian Thompson on Twitter @brian4NY

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