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America’s Oldest Bald Eagles Dies, Sets New Record

A traffic accident has claimed the oldest bald eagle in American history.

The oldest wild bald eagle in America has died, according to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). The agency reported that the 38-year-old male eagle—designated 03142 by researchers—was found dead alongside a road in Monroe County earlier this month. The cause of death is suspected to be a motor vehicle.

“When we banded 03142 on August 5, 1977 and had no idea how very special and significant this young bald eagle would become to our nascent bald eagle restoration program,” said retired DEC biologist Peter Nye, who once oversaw the banding of eagles like this long-lived bird. “Based on his recent recovery near this site, we have to assume he has been the resident male, breeding here for the past 34 years. That’s quite a stretch, and likely a record in itself. His longevity, 38 years, although ingloriously cut short by a motor vehicle, is also a national record for known life-span of a wild bald eagle. All I can say is, hats off too you 03142; job well done!”

The DEC said that the bird was first found as a nestling brought over from northern Minnesota in the early days of the agency’s Bald Eagle Restoration Program. At the time, 03142 was only one of a handful of young eagles in the state and was released into the Montezuma Wildlife Refuge along with four others. Over time, biologists watched on as the eagle fathered and raised young eaglets, eventually making a significant contribution to the return of bald eagles in the state.

Newsday reported that 03142 surpassed the age of the previous oldest eagle—which died last year in Wisconsin—by more than five years. Wild eagles have an average lifespan of around 15 to 20 years, although certain individuals can live much longer. Captive eagles can live well past 30 years if given the right care.

New York once had a sizable eagle population, but the effects of DDT and other factors drove the species from the state in the 1980s. Shortly after 03142 was banded, the state’s last native breeding male was found shot dead by poachers. Over the next few years biologists would work diligently to release 198 young eagles into state forests as an attempt to restore the species. As of today, New York boasts 350 pairs of breeding couples and the eagle program is considered an overwhelming success.