Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
Although the Bald Eagle was adopted as the United States National Emblem in 1782 bounties were paid for killing them as late as 1962. A declining population resulted in the National Emblem Law of 1940. Killing Bald Eagles was forbidden in the lower forty-eight states. It was another twenty-two years before it became illegal to kill them in Alaska.
The wide use of pesticides such as DDT after World War II increased the decline of the Bald Eagle population. The amount of toxins increase as they move up the food chain, especially in fish, the chief food source of Bald Eagles. The poisons resulted in the thinning of the eagle's egg shell, which caused them to crush under the weight of the incubating mother.
The ban on DDT in 1972 began the recovery of the Bald Eagle. Originally listed as Endangered in 1966 the Bald Eagle's status was dropped to threatened in 1996. Signs of the recovery included nests on both Crescent Lake and North Platte National Wildlife Refuges.
The second successful Bald Eagle nest in Nebraska in over 100 years occurred on the North Platte NWR in 1993. Remarkably three eaglets were reared to flight stage. The same nest has been successful every year since, fledging 2 to 3 eaglets. The nest is located on Lake Alice which is also in a closed area. This is very important, because eagles can be timid while nesting. The nest should not be approached closer then a quarter mile to assure proper incubation. The nesting pair begin setting in the nest around the first of March. Eaglets are generally noted by the first of April. Eaglets are fledged by late June lingering near the nest for several weeks.
While eagles are now year-round residents to the refuge, they peak in November and December with a daily average of 11 birds. As many as 24 bald eagles have been recorded during this time of year as these migrants follow the tens of thousands of waterfowl also sharing the refuge.
The fact that these eagles chose these nest sites is encouraging. Both nests are located in small tracts of timber considerably smaller than average. This leaves us with a positive note that the Bald Eagle will continue to recover.