Fans of feathers are flocking to Central Park’s reservoir in New York City to take in a dramatic performance. Rover, a bald eagle, is the park’s headline attraction, delighting parkgoers and terrifying gulls alike.
Rover has been tracked by the city’s birders for the last two years, and some have cited his progress as evidence of the conservation advantages of putting metal bands to the legs of vulnerable bird species while they are young. Rover’s landing in the five boroughs adds to the growing body of evidence that birds of prey are making a comeback to urban settings. If Rover can establish a permanent home in and around Central Park, it is possible that even more eagles may take to the skies above the city in the coming years.
Rover’s life starts in the city of New Haven, Connecticut. In 2016, the town’s birders were taken aback when they discovered a pair of bald eagles building a nest at a heavily trafficked crossroads. Both men and women were dressed in black, with the guy sporting a band around his leg that said “P2.” A group of birders named the pair Walter and Rachel — W and R in honour of the West River, which runs through the city, according to Martin Torresquintero, outdoor activity coordinator for the city’s administration.
Walter and Rachel were unable to have any children that year and were forced to migrate to a neighbouring cemetery. They were successful the next year, as well as in2018, when they lay three eggs.
Two years later, a juvenile bald eagle started keeping watch in the lofty pine trees of Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery, where it has remained ever since. A bald eagle was seen in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, and Angela Panetta, a birder in the borough, said the sighting piqued her attention. “I couldn’t believe that a bald eagle was hanging out at Green-Wood Cemetery in the centre of Brooklyn,” Panetta said.
Birders in Green-Wood saw a ring around his left leg with the letters R over 7— garnering him the moniker Rover— and have been monitoring him ever since.
Meanwhile, just a few of months earlier in Central Park, an impressive banded bald eagle made a spectacular appearance above the reservoir, plucking a seagull from the air in full view of witnesses before disappearing into the woods.
Mr. Hess had seen a video of the Central Park bald eagle on the prowl and wanted to see it in person. “I thought, yeah, that’s the best thing,” he added. A short time later, he was approached with information about a bald eagle with a black band and the number R7 that had been seen in and near New York City. He recognised the combo right away – it belonged to one of the siblings with whom he’d formed a band in 2018.
Rover is part of a larger trend of raptors migrating into urban areas, which has been going on for quite some time. Raptor numbers plunged in the first part of the twentieth century as a result of extensive hunting and the widespread use of the pesticide DDT, among other factors. According to Jen Cruz, a population biologist at Boise State University, these toxins went up the food chain and accumulated in predators such as bald eagles, causing their eggs’ shells to become too thin to withstand the weight of the parent bird’s body.
The prohibition of DDT, as well as legislation against the injuring or disturbing of bald eagles, have all contributed to the recovery of the species. After quadrupling in the last decade, the bald eagle population in the United States is now a common sight across the country, including New York City, where bald eagles are known to nest on Staten Island and other islands. The birds are adaptive, and they can graze on a variety of foods, including fish, roadkill, other birds, and various insects – even in Central Park.
Avian predators continue to be threatened in New York City. Just last year, Central Park’s famed barred owl Barry was killed after he was struck by a maintenance vehicle in the park. According to the results of an autopsy, she had consumed poisoned prey.
Rover’s family has also been through a lot of turmoil. Although there have been no reports of sightings of P7, S7 was killed by a vehicle while driving through West Virginia in September 2018. Rachel, Rover’s mother, was struck and killed by a vehicle on I-95 in 2020, but she survived. Rachel attempted to return to Walter after her recuperation, but Walter found a new partner who beat her off when she attempted to return to him, according to Mr. Torresquintero.
Mr. Hess is bullish about Rover’s long-term viability and success. Rover is 4 years old, and bald eagles begin reproducing when they are 5 years old. Perhaps he will meet a partner and decide to have a family in New York City as well.