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 to DDT.

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.)

"Early 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!"

A student asked Peter Nye, What have you learned since tracking bald eagles that most surprised you? He responded:

"What 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!

"I 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."

National Science Education Standards

  • Technology used to gather data enhances accuracy and allows scientists to analyze and quantify results of investigations.
  • Tools help scientists make better observations, measurements, and equipment for investigations.
  • Many people choose science as a career and devote their entire lives to studying it. Many people derive great pleasure from doing science.