After World War II, the population of American bald eagles was devastated by DDT — a pesticide that was put into heavy use to control mosquitoes and other insects.
After DDT was banned in 1972, bald eagles rebounded from 417 breeding pairs in 1963 to more than 11,000 today in the lower 48 states.
Eagles were taken off the federal endangered species list in 2007, but they’re still considered “a species of concern” in many states. And in Connecticut, their status is “threatened,” so sightings there are not all that common.
From the Here & Now Contributors Network, Diane Orson of WNPR brings us the story of one sighting in a busy Connecticut town.
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
I'm Jeremy Hobson. And if you've never seen a bald eagle, you might want to head to Connecticut fast. An eagle family has taken up residence just off a highway there, and we're going to get to that in a minute. But first, a little background on American bald eagles. The population was devastated by the use of the pesticide DDT after World War II. After DDT was banned in 1972, American bald eagles rebounded in a big way, though they are still considered threatened in a number of states, including Connecticut, so sightings there are not all that common, which makes this next story all the more exciting. Here is Diane Orson from WNPR, part of the HERE AND NOW Contributors Network.
DIANE ORSON, BYLINE: Each night this summer along an industrial stretch of Route 5 in Hamden, just outside New Haven, a crowd has been gathering. Folks stand next to a nondescript building, lift their binoculars, focus the telescope and gaze across the street, past the traffic, over the railroad tracks, up, up about 70 feet high where in a huge oak tree sits a large nest. And inside, a very large bald eagle chick, with a watchful parent hidden nearby.
MICHAEL LEJEUNE: This is the only bird watching I've ever done.
ORSON: Michael Lejeune works at the town library.
LEJEUNE: I essentially have been coming down every night. I invested in a spotting scope, and ever since, I've been coming down and watching eagles.
ORSON: That's true for most of the folks who come here each night, like Marianne Delvecchio of East Haven.
MARIANNE DELVECCHIO: Never been a bird watcher, not a bird watcher ever. I'm not a nature girl, but there's something about this eagle that just draws me here.
ORSON: Trucks are back and forth to local businesses all day. It's a pretty busy spot. Eagles can be skittish, so Maureen Quinn, of North Haven, says she can't believe that they chose to build a nest here.
MAUREEN QUINN: The trains come by and they really lay on the horns, not a flinch.
ORSON: Though their front yard is busy, behind the eagle's nest is a wide open marsh with plenty of fish. This was not the eagle's original nest. Mike Lejeune says the first one was down the road behind the bus depot.
LEJEUNE: The blizzard in February destroyed their nest, although the weight of all the snow just crushed it.
ORSON: State wildlife officials monitored the eagles and kept track of them as they move from their more secluded location to this spot. Lejeune says he's learned a lot about the birds.
LEJEUNE: Eagles always build a contingency nest. They'll start it, and in case something happens to their primary nest, they'll actually finish off the contingency. Since February, they've been here.
ORSON: Tonight, after briefly soaring above the tree, the adult female eagle lands in full view on a branch.
LEJEUNE: With the lights hitting her, it's almost she wants you to take her picture. It's amazing.
DELVECCHIO: That's almost as good as watching the baby fly. I know it.
ORSON: The chick hatched in April, not long after the group that meets here each night created a Facebook page where, like doting relatives, they post photos of the birds. A police officer drives up.
JAY JONES: My name is Jay Jones(ph).
ORSON: Are you a Hamden police officer?
JONES: No, I'm with Yale University Police.
ORSON: What brings you down here?
JONES: The eagle.
ORSON: Well, that's a relief.
ORSON: I know. I was getting a little nervous there for a minute. Noreen Polio, of New Haven, calls this an amazing first-time bird watching experience.
NOREEN POLIO: I don't see anybody on their cellphones or tweeting or anything. You know, it's nature in the city, and it's just wonderful.
ORSON: The chick is now a fledgling. It flew for the first time last week. The eagles will soon leave their urban nest, and this busy stretch of highway may never be quite the same. For HERE AND NOW, I'm Diane Orson in Hamden, Connecticut. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.