Queens Zoo hopes eagles will breed

There was a time when, if you wanted to see a real-life Bald Eagle, your best bet was a trip to Alaska. Now, a trip to Corona will do the trick.
The Queens Zoo, located near the 56th Avenue entrance to Flushing Meadows-Corona Park on 111th Street, as been home to this national bird since it opened in 1992.
Then Borough President Claire Shulman arranged for the zoo to get one of these endangered national birds, which was a female and was named “Claire” in her honor. Shortly afterward, the zoo acquired a male, which it named “Mel,” after Shulman’s husband.
This was a coup for Queens. At that time, the bird, was on the endangered species list, having gone from an estimated 500,000 in the contiguous 48 states, to just 417 pairs in 1963. According to the Wildlife Conservation Society, no other zoo in New York City has these raptors, which are only found in North America.
Though protected from humans by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protective Act of 1940, which made it a federal crime to kill or even capture the birds, the side-effects of a then-new insecticide, DDT, caused eagle eggs to break before they could hatch. Eagle populations continued to plummet until DDT was outlawed in 1973, when they began to recover.
It’s rare for eagles to mate in captivity, according to Scott Silver, Assistant Director and Animal Curator at the zoo. “Generally, eagles breed in the air, with the males above the females,” Silver said, “But I have heard from a colleague that flightless pairs have bred successfully.”
Sadly, according to Silver, Mel and Claire had no success. “They nested, and both incubated the eggs, but they were never fertile,” he said. Then, Claire passed away.
Early this spring however, another female, named Claire II, was acquired from the Mercer County Wildlife Center in New Jersey. She, like her predecessor, suffered a wing injury and can’t fly. But after the required 30-day quarantine, Claire II was put on exhibition on May 14, and introduced to Mel.
Like many relationships, the first good sign was that “they didn’t try to kill each other,” according to a source at the zoo. Female eagles can weigh 14 pounds and have a wingspan of eight feet. Males are smaller, at about 10 pounds.
As if to celebrate the good news, the Department of the Interior announced that nearly 10,000 nesting pairs of Bald Eagles have been counted in the contiguous 48 states and on June 28, removed the birds from the list of animals threatened with extinction.
That doesn’t mean they’re unprotected, however, according to Silver.
“We don’t own them,” he said, explaining, “Technically, the Department of the Interior owns them - we need permission to acquire or breed them.” He continued, “If Claire lays an egg, we have to notify Washington. We even have to collect any feathers they drop.” The federal government makes the collected eagle feathers available to Native American tribes.
Now that the Bald Eagle has made a comeback in every state, the people at the Queens Zoo are hopeful that Mel and Claire II will do their part to keep the numbers climbing.
“At this point, I’m watchful and hopeful,” Silver said. “Claire II and Mel are getting along well.”

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