Meet Jack Kuhlman, Duke Farms ‘Tree Man’

DSCN9800-001Written By: Jim Wright for Duke Farms and Conserve Wildlife Foundation

Next Monday morning, the two Duke Farms eaglets are scheduled to be banded by state wildlife biologists and examined by a wildlife veterinarian.

Another state wildlife biologist will climb more than 80 feet up the tree to retrieve the two eaglets.

Behind the scenes, ace tree climber and arborist Jack Kuhlman has helped with the cam and the climb.

DSCN9804Jack has been associated with Duke Farms for two decades and started as a tree worker/arborist on the “Tree Crew.”

He eventually ran the crew for several years before deciding  to go back to his own business in Hillsborough full time. He later came back a day or two a week as an arboriculture consultant.

Then he learned about the Duke Farms eagle nest.  “I  heard that a camera for viewing the nest wasn’t installed yet,” Jack says.  “Through some collaboration with Duke and the state wildlife biologist, we were given the OK to install the camera in the first tree.

“After a hurricane, the nest moved, and so did the camera. It’s been a few years that we have been viewing the eagles, and we hope to view this gem for many more years.

“I’ve been very fortunate to work with great people at Duke Farms my whole time here and DSCN9821feel blessed that I am part of that amazing group.”

According to Jack, the nest tree, an American Sycamore (Platanus occidentals) is well over 100 feet tall, and the nest is roughly 80 feet up.

“The tree climbing is no easy task,”he says. “Smooth bark means no grip, and the cable from the camera has to be looked out for as well as the lightning protection system.”

Jack says that since he take every safety precaution he can, he hasn’t hDSCN9834ad any close calls yet, but concedes he has been “nervous the eagle would come to the nest when I was in the tree.”

One eagle did fly overhead a year ago when he was working on the camera with Duke Farms’ Charles Barreca, and Jack recalls the eagle “made a distinct sound.”

Jack’s advice to any student thinking of becoming an arborist and professional tree climber is simple:

“Go to college and get your degree first, then you can deal with the tree-climbing portion after. My oldest son Jack is 20 years old. He’s been working summers with me and loves the job — it changes everyday. He climbs a little here and there.

“If I had to change anything in my life, it would be finishing my degree. I still love the trees, and when I am slow look forward to being back up in the canopy.

“An old-timer once said that once you get the sawdust in your veins, it is impossible to get it out.  You’re a Tree Man for life.”

Tomorrow: Meet John Heilferty, the state wildlife biologist who will climb the nest tree on Monday.

Got a question or suggestion? E-mail Jim at

Jim Wright writes “The Bird Watcher” columnist for The [Bergen] Record. He is the author of four coffee-table books about wild places, and a deputy marsh warden of the Celery Farm Natural Area in Allendale, N.J.

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6 Responses to Meet Jack Kuhlman, Duke Farms ‘Tree Man’

  1. Susan Catelli says:

    As the time gets closer, will the time that the banding will take place be announced, so we can watch on line?

  2. Marianne Mulligan says:

    Jack is amazingly brave to be able to contend with both tree height and the possibility of adult eagles return to the nest.
    Wondering what kind of deceased bird is in the nest and how it got there.

  3. Savta says:

    fascinating! thank you for this background information.

  4. Mike says:

    Jack is the best around!

  5. awesome job jack /woodpecker/

  6. Thanks Jim for the article, and the chance to “meet’ another of the team that brings this view to us. I don’t deal well with heights, so thank you to Jack.

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