Don Torino’s Life in the Meadowlands: To Hold an Eagle in Your Arms

 Sometimes in life, if you are very lucky, something very special happens. Something you won’t forget. A time that from that day forward will remain in your thoughts, guide and influence you, inspire you, and if you are very fortunate, will humble you. It can also push you forward into the future and at the same time clearly display the lessons of the past.

You will absorb those times into who you are and who you become until they are a part of you forever and at times relive it as you rest in your favorite old chair in the backyard. I was privileged enough to have one of those special times this past spring, right here in our Meadowlands.

This past May I was blessed enough to hold a Bald Eagle in my arms. It is still difficult for me to even say that aloud without getting too emotional and honestly, putting those words down in print gives me goosebumps as we speak.

Around early April, I received notice that there was a possibility, if all conditions were right, that I might have the honor of assisting banding the nestling eagles at one of the nest sites I help monitor for State. Under the supervision of Kathy Clark, NJDEP, Endangered or Nongame Species Program I got to do just that.

I will leave all the technical details of that special day for another time. However, since then many folks have asked me what it was like to hold a Bald Eagle in my arms. I will do my best to try to explain my personal thoughts from that day and what I feel now.

My heart was in my mouth when the young eagle was taken down from the nest, and of course like everyone else that was there that day, the wellbeing of the adults and the two young nestlings were our very first concern.

As I watched as all the important technical stuff that was being done to these very calm and well cared for young symbols of our nation, my thoughts quickly went back to when I was a Meadowlands kid. I was a 12-year-old wandering through the Marshland trails, discovering my new home, a unique rural wilderness bordered by the ever-encroaching threat of uncontrolled development and unrestrained pollution. A place back then where it seemed no one even cared or knew we were here, a place abused by many but loved with the passion of a special few that would eventually save it, My God, how far we have come!

To think that one day that it was ever even possible to just see a Bald Eagle in our Meadowlands and then to have them nest here was something growing up my friends and I never believed possible, and yet here I was, getting closer to holding one in my arms .

For about the last 15 years or so I have done my very best to protect and defend our local eagle nests. From personally being threatened by developers to talking with school kids, the return of these magnificent birds was never and should never be taken for granted.  

No matter how many times I am privileged to watch eagles fly over or catch a fish and even bring new eagles into the world, it does something to anyone’s soul lucky enough to witness them. It is said that Native Americans believe the Bald Eagle carries our prayers up to the Great Spirit. I could sign on to that. As the young eagle was weighed, blood tested and banded everyone looked my way. It was my turn to embrace this special creature. Now I have been blessed over the years to hold many amazing raptors in my arms, Peregrines, Red tails and even a Broad-winged Hawk. Nevertheless, there was something very different, something both spiritual and comforting as the bird was gently handed over to me.

I nervously brought the eagle to my chest, stroked its feathers, looked into its eyes and felt its warmth. Some folks said they never saw me smile so big. It is hard for an environmentalist to smile big these days but a Bald Eagle can do that, allow you to smile really big for a real long time.

 It was hard for me the fathom, that me, this old Meadowlands kid, that grew up unsure of where the world would take him, one that traveled many different paths and trails through life’s hardships and joys, could be standing in our New Jersey Meadowlands holding an eagle, was  almost too much for me to contemplate .

Standing nearby me was a young boy that was allowed to witness the goings on of the day. With the eagle in my arms, I said to him that when I was your age this could have never happened, we could only dream. We are standing here because good people did the right thing more than 50 years ago. If he remembers anything from that day, I hope it is that.

Holding that Eagle in my arms I saw the return of our Meadowlands from a place most people gave up on to a magnificent urban wilderness. I remembered the days when the Bald Eagle was believed by some to be too far-gone and could never come back. I recalled walking with my friends, many that I wished could be here with me and some that are no longer with us. I felt we were together once again in the creeks and marshes that guided me through my life that led me back here. It was very hard to keep my composure as all those memories rushed back at me so vividly, so clear and so fast

The eagle in my arms just looked around now as a slight breeze moved its feathers upward when I finally handed it back to be placed up into the nest with its brother. Now, I sent all my wishes and prayers back with that eagle in hopes that the Native American belief was true. The eagle’s eyes told me that it was. 

Now both eagles have successfully fledged their Meadowlands nest, once again hunting on their ancestral lands where they always belonged, where we hope they will always be from now on for future generations.

When you see a Bald Eagle over the Meadowlands or anywhere else, remember what it took to get them there,  how people cared enough, how hard they worked, how much they fought and how the eagles themselves never surrendered and never gave up . I was honored to hold one in my arms, something that will live with me forever .

See You in the Meadowlands

4 thoughts on “Don Torino’s Life in the Meadowlands: To Hold an Eagle in Your Arms

  1. Tammy

    Your love for eagles and nature shows in that gentle hug, and also in all you do to help them and the environment. Very touching article and a good reminder that it takes tender love and tough determination to do the right thing.

  2. Miryam Wahrman

    Don, I have goosebumps from your beautiful reflection. Your own work and continued dedication to our environment is inspiring. I, too, remember how it was 50 years ago, and appreciate how humankind can and did repair some of the damage. Our Meadowlands and beaches are so much richer and more varied in species than they were when we were kids. In addition to eagles, I had never seen ospreys, piping plovers, terns, and various other species, and the beaches were strewn with tar. What an accomplishment to have restored so much natural beauty. Let’s hope future generations will continue to enjoy and appreciate the diversity of life around us. May you be blessed with many more healthy and productive years to continue your important mission.


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