In what the state Department of Environmental Protection has called a "dramatic" recovery of the bald eagle population, local eagle nesting sites in northern Ocean County are home to two of more than 100 nesting pairs that can be found statewide, an important milestone for state environmental officials.
DEP spokesman Larry Ragonese confirmed that state officials have identified nesting pairs near Kettle Creek, on the border of Brick and Toms River, as well as in northern Brick, on the Manasquan River near the border with Wall Township.
John Zingis, a Brick resident who lives on the Tunes Brook branch of Kettle Creek, also confirmed the bald eagle pairs live nearby.
"Last weekend, I saw at least a pair up in the nest, just hanging out," Zingis said, adding that he's also seen the majestic birds feeding lately.
"We've had an exceptionally warm fall, so it hasn't pushed them down south," Zingis, who is also an environmental engineer, said.
Eagles primarily depend on fish for survival, making Ocean County a prime area for an eagle population. The bulk of the state's bald eagles, to the tune of 60 percent, make their nests on the Delaware Bay in Cumberland and Salem counties, according to state tallies.
A survey completed by the DEP's Endangered and Nongame Species Program counted 102 pairs of actively nesting eagles statewide, plus 11 more pairs in the process of establishing nesting territories. Statewide, 75 percent of the nests successfully produced offspring this year. A total of 119 eagle chicks were hatched, for a success rate of 1.25 per active nest.
Figures released by the DEP earlier this month confirmed the overall number of eagles counted in the survey stood at 238. That figure was 28 percent lower than the record 333 observed in 2010, most likely due to snow and high winds impairing the visibility of observers last winter.
"The recovery of the bald eagle from one nesting pair in an isolated swamp in southern New Jersey in the early 1980s to more than 100 pairs today is a truly remarkable success story that is a testament to the excellent work that has been done to manage the species, and to how far we've come as a state in restoring and protecting our environment," DEP Commissioner Bob Martin said in a statement.
Despite a recent population surge in the Garden State, the bald eagle remains listed as an endangered species in New Jersey. The federal government removed the bald eagle from its endangered species list in 2007; the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is now overseeing a 20-year recovery monitoring period.