A 38-year-old, Minnesota-born bald eagle — the oldest on record in the nation — has been killed by a vehicle in New York state.
The male eagle was captured as a chick in 1977 at Puposky Lake near Bemidji and transplanted to New York with three other eagle chicks as part of a national restoration effort.
The young eagles were banded, and officials found No. 03142 earlier this month alongside a road, killed by a vehicle. Records show it was the oldest banded bald eagle recovered in the nation — by five years.
The eagle’s 38-year lifespan was remarkable, said Carrol Henderson, longtime head of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources nongame wildlife program. “I would never guess they would last that long,” he said. “Anything over 20 years would be considered old.”
Henderson helped with the capture of the eagle in 1977, when he first started his job as nongame supervisor.
“We hired a tree climber, who climbed up white pines, 80 to 90 feet, to eagle’s nests, put a chick in a cloth bag and lowered it by rope to the ground,” he said. “We always took just one chick from a nest, and left a healthy chick.”
From 1977 through 1988, Minnesota and its healthy eagle population supplied eagle chicks to five states as part of restoration efforts. Eight chicks eventually went to New York, 14 to Tennessee, 15 to Missouri, 15 to Georgia and three to Arkansas.
“We contributed a total of 55 bald eagle chicks over that 12-year period,” Henderson said. “I think those Minnesota eagles contributed some very healthy genes to help bring back our national bird.”
In New York, the eagle restoration effort was a major success. The state had one pair of nonproducing eagles when it launched its restoration effort in 1976. Over 13 years, New York acquired and released 198 eagle chicks. It now has more than 350 pairs of breeding bald eagles, and the 38-year-old male bird that began life in Minnesota likely contributed to that growth.
“When we banded No. 03142 on August 5, 1977, [we] had no idea how very special and significant this young bald eagle would become to our nascent bald eagle restoration program,” said Peter Nye, retired New York wildlife biologist. “We have to assume he has been the resident male, breeding here for the past 34 years.” Eagles reach maturity at age 4 or 5.
The eagle was found dead June 2, with a freshly killed rabbit nearby.
“It is gratifying to know that our early efforts for eagle restoration have paid off so well,” Henderson said.
Eagles were once endangered by the widespread use of DDT, an insecticide that weakened eagle shells. Use of the chemical was banned in 1972. That step, combined with prohibitions against their killing, helped the bald eagle make a remarkable comeback.
Minnesota had perhaps 600 to 800 bald eagles in 1977, Henderson said, and officials believed then that they could spare five chicks a year to contribute to restoration efforts elsewhere. Today, Minnesota has more than 10,000 bald eagles, more than any other state in the Lower 48.
“I’m excited to have been involved in early stages of the eagle restoration,” Henderson said. “Today people see eagles everywhere, even in the Twin Cities.”