Monday, January 11, 2010

Haliaeetus leucocephalus in the Heights

The people at the Trinity Church Cemetery and Mausoleum in Manhattan's Washington Heights snapped these photos of an American Bald Eagle, enjoying a lunch plucked from the Hudson in a tree near the cemetery offices. It's a big fish - maybe a striped bass?

This just happens to be the same cemetery where the famed naturalist John James Audubon has been buried since 1851. During most of Audubon's lifetime, bald eagles were a common sight in the ecologically-rich Hudson River estuary, which had been a teeming mixing-basin of saltwater and freshwater habitats. But by the mid-nineteenth century, sewage and industrial waste from the booming city (in an era without pollution controls) laid waste to the estuary's food chain -from the oysters near the bottom to the bald eagles at the top.

The Clean Water Act and other environmental laws of the 1960s and 1970s gave the Hudson River a chance to recover, though. Fish came back, but state and federal wildlife programs had to resort to importing eagles from Canada in order to lure the big birds of prey back to the city.

In the summer of 2006, when this blog was just getting started, I was part of the Urban Park Rangers team that maintained a bald-eagle hack site in Inwood Hill Park on the final year of a five-year program (here are some of my photos). Eagles typically wander around for a five-year adolescence before returning to nest near the place where they were raised, so it tickles me to think that this bird in the Trinity cemetery might be one that was raised in Inwood Hill Park.

Birdwatchers in New York City can look for this eagle themselves at 770 Riverside Drive, between 153rd and 155th streets.


1 comment:

Vanessa said...

I grew up in Washington Heights. My parents live about 1/2 mile south of Fort Tryon park - another beautiful NYC park. My parents went on ranger-led tour last year and learned that a lot of fish are returning to the area because of recent successful clean-up efforts in the Hudson River.