Fatal Attraction: Lizzie Bordentown Gives Eagles a Bad Name

March 2, 2019

Lizzy Bordentown, the new Crosswicks Creek / Bordentown female, in a dominant position relative to her nesting mate. Photo by Kevin Buynie

 

In a 1784 letter that circulated in the new nation’s newspapers, Benjamin Franklin opposed to making the bald eagle the symbol of the new American nation for reasons of “bad moral character.”  

 

He cited as evidence an eagle’s habit of stealing fish from hawks, being “too lazy to fish for himself.”

 

Franklin’s observations were likely formed watching eagles over the same Delaware River that intersects with the Crosswicks Creek in Bordentown — a location that is now home to a nesting pair known as the Crosswicks eagles.

 

Franklin’s argument would have been much stronger had he known the story of Crosswicks  young female eagle, now known as “Lizzie Bordentown.”

True story:  Kevin and Karin Buynie of Burlington Township spend a lot of time in Princeton where they monitor a local bald eagle nest as part of a statewide volunteer program.

 

Below: Photo of a female bald eagle who was fatally injured by Lizzy Bordentown. Photo by Kevin Buynie

 

The Buynies also monitor three other nests, including the one at Crosswicks Creek that might fairly be described as a crime scene.

 

The evidence:  Referring to the demise of an adult female eagle near Crosswicks Creek, the state’s 2017 annual bald eagle report entry for April 27 states “injured due to fighting. Euthanized 5/1/17.”  

 

But the story is much more salacious, according to the Buynies, whose faithful monitoring of the Crosswicks nest enabled them to piece together the following story.

 

At the start of 2017, a pair of eagles were nesting at Crosswicks, preparing for another season of raising eaglets along the D&R Canal and Delaware River.

On to the scene came a second female eagle who provoked a fight, leaving the first female seriously injured and floating near-death in the canal.

 

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Although the injured bird was rescued and brought to the Mercer County Wildlife Center in Pennington, the wildlife biologists deemed her beyond recovery and had to euthanize her.

 

What happened back at the nest suggested a motive — a fatal attraction for the dead female’s mate. The female aggressor immediately assumed the place of the first, and stole her mate. 

 

“The male eagle simply accepted the new female,” said Kevin Buynie, explaining that with male eagles two pounds lighter than females, on average, he may not have had much choice.

 

Whether due to the size and power of females, eagles have evolved to share equal gender roles both in hunting, incubating eggs, and tending to the nest and to their young, Karin Buynie said.

 

Gender equality aside, the way the female Crosswicks eagle insinuated herself into her new family has earned her the nickname “Lizzie Bordentown” after the 19th Century murderess, Lizzie Borden, who, according to legend, “gave her mother 40 whacks.” ■

 

 

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