Peter Nye's Career
A Glimpse into the Life of a Scientist
Peter Nye, of New York's Department of Environmental Conservation,
is one of the top eagle biologists in the nation. He was a pioneer in
re-establishing eagles after their population declined dramatically, due
As you may know, the chemical DDT made egg shells so thin
that the young couldn't hatch. This nearly eliminated Bald Eagles throughout
the lower 48 U.S. states. By 1976 for example, only one pair of eagles
was still attempting to nest in the entire state of New York — and
that nest failed.
That same year, Peter Nye developed a way of raising young
eagles known as "hacking." Nye and his colleagues went to Alaska,
where eagles were still abundant, and gathered young. Like foster parents,
they raised the young eagles back in New York in "hacking towers"
until the eagles were old enough to fly. Slowly but surely, year after
year, the population has continued to build. In fact, there were 70 nesting
pairs that fledged 94 young Bald Eagles in New York in the summer of 2002!
Nye is also a pioneer in the high-tech migration-tracking
method called "satellite telemetry." (See High,
High Tech: The Science of Satellite Tracking.)
on, we used rather primitive capture equipment and radio transmitters,
requiring extensive work by biologists and technicians in tracking the
eagles manually from the ground or aircraft," said Nye. "Recent
advances in technology now allow us to set up remotely fired (radio-controlled)
capture equipment and to track bald eagles (and other birds) using satellites.
This has made the biologist's job much easier and the data we get from
each eagle much more complete. It has also forced us to become much
more computer-literate in order to take advantage of this new technology!"
asked Peter Nye, What have you learned since tracking bald eagles that
most surprised you? He responded:
has most surprised me is the path these birds are taking. They all seem
to go in somewhat different directions and routes to get to their destinations.
I remember when we used to try to track these birds from the ground
using what we call "conventional" radio transmitters (rather
than the satellite transmitters we use today). We would have to make
a guess as to which way they went when we lost their radio signal, and
then go like heck in that direction to try to pick them up again. Well,
even in a small airplane, by this method, eagles gave us the slip almost
every time! Now, looking at how each does something different (no real
common patterns), I can see why; we didn't stand a chance!
have also been surprised at how fast they move out. Once they decide
to go, they cover hundreds of miles in just days, again, making it impossible
to keep up with them."
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