It's a sweltering afternoon in August 2002. The mottled reddish brown eaglets, who wont acquire the characteristic white head and tail feathers of mature bald eagles until they are four to five years old, pant as they gaze out from their wooden platform, high up in the trees on a steep hill overlooking a salt marsh estuary in upper Manhattan. The eaglets are the first living in the borough in more than three centuries and, many hope, they will choose to stay.

A television monitor in the Inwood Hill Nature Center offers a close-up view of the eaglets' enclosure, and a ranger uses a toggle to zoom in and follow their movements. The image can also be accessed live on the parks Web site. When the eagles first arrived and were too young to fly, they were kept in the two large cages on the platform. Now the doors are open, and theyre allowed to come and go as they test their wings. No one can predict how long they might remain in the area--it could be weeks or months.

One eagle perches on the heap of branches and slimy fish heads in its cage, nibbling the scaly tail of a raw salmon. The eagles are fed 16 pounds of fresh fish daily, but its delivered through a tube at the back of their enclosure so that they do not become accustomed to their human caretakers. Another eaglet takes a bath, splashing in the blue plastic water dish in its cage. A third glides over the nature center and marsh, and then lands on top of the enclosure.

The eaglets were collected from nests in northern Wisconsin by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources when they were approximately six weeks old. Since adults often cant raise more than one bird to maturity, the eaglets are taken from nests with multiple birds--where they may not have otherwise survived--and then released in other states. The method the Parks Department is using to reintroduce the eagles, called "hacking," was adapted from falconry. Birds are either hatched in captivity or collected from nests and then transferred to man-made towers.

Already, the young birds' adventurousness has had their human caretakers holding their breath. The youngest, a male, got stuck in the mud while attempting to fish in the marsh during low tide, and had to be rescued by the rangers. Another rescue took place when an eagle landed on a soccer field crowded with kids and dogs.

The Inwood eagles are now venturing out farther each day, routinely taking flights of 10 to 20 miles into the Bronx and up the Hudson, though they still return to the tree house for free meals. They wear tiny backpack radio transmitters, so the rangers can track their whereabouts. One was recently spotted more than 35 miles away, near Buchanan, New York, flying with another eagle. As Alexander Brash, the chief of New York City's Urban Park Rangers, says, "It looks like it may have already found a friend." --Jennifer Usher


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