The Seaside Heights boardwalk, as well as plenty of other locations on Ocean County’s northern barrier island, became a bit more patriotic Tuesday when bald eagles made an appearance.
The birds of prey captured the attention of boardwalk visitors, who gathered on the boardwalk at about the midway point of the Sky Ride to catch a glimpse. The eagles were perched on the chairs and cables of the ride, using it as both a resting place and a lookout over the ocean, where they would occasionally find food.
Baitfish have been especially plentiful in New Jersey waters this week, bringing a number of species into public view. The wind patterns in recent days have led to schools of bunker as well as other species moving closer to shore. Mayor Anthony Vaz told Shorebeat it was the first time he had ever heard of a bald eagle sighting on the boardwalk – or anywhere else in Seaside Heights, for that matter.
The group of bald eagles were spotted in other portions of the island, too, especially in Toms River’s north beaches.
While an intriguing site, bald eagles have become more common in New Jersey in recent years. There are multiple annual nests in Brick Township along the Manasquan River, near Ridge Road, and on a communications tower that overlooks Kettle Creek and Barnegat Bay. In some cases, bald eagle families have been seeing “kicking out” ospreys – a smaller bird of prey – from man-made nests in the bay’s marsh areas.
The last major tally of the state’s bald eagle population came in January, when the state Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Fish and Wildlife announced that four decades after being on the brink of extinction, nesting pairs were found in all 21 of the state’s counties.
“New Jersey’s abundant and growing bald eagle population is a great success story that shows our wildlife conservation work and partnerships are effective,” former NJDEP Commissioner Catherine McCabe said at the time. “Thanks to the hard work of our wildlife conservationists, a commitment to using the best science, and our collaboration with our partners, the growing eagle population that has expanded statewide is proof that we have a healthy environment for wildlife. It is fitting that the bird honored as the symbol of our nation continues expanding its presence in the state that became the crossroads of America’s quest for freedom and independence.”
A total of 36 new nests were found in New Jersey last year, 22 of which were in the southern half of the state. The majority of those were located along the Delaware River and Delaware Bay in Cape May County. The state reported 220 nesting pairs of bald eagles last year which produced 307 young. New Jersey began tracking bald eagles in 1980, when there was just a single nesting pair in the entire Garden State.