By Brynn Walling, USFWS
From sea to shining sea -- that’s the range of the American Bald Eagle.
And the recovery of this bird is one of our greatest success stories to date.
In 1782, when the bald eagle was named our national symbol, the eagle population was approximately 100,000. Then, in the mid-1800’s, waterfowl and shorebird populations began to decline. Since the bald eagle is at the top of the food chain, this had a major effect on their population too. There was a fight for food.
(Photo Couresy Arthur Nelson)
In 1940 the bald eagle was threatened with extinction. Congress stepped in and passed the Bald Eagle Protection Act, protecting them from poaching and making it illegal to kill a bald eagle.
After World War II, the pesticide DDT was used to fight off mosquitoes and other pesky bugs. It was discovered that the residue of the spray was being absorbed my fish and plants. Eagles were then consuming these fish and plants and were becoming ill and dying. In 1963, there were only 487 nesting pairs left.
Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring raised awareness of the affect of DDT on bald eagles and the environment as a whole. In 1967, the bald eagle received protection under the Endangered Species Preservation Act. This was the beginning of a long road to recovery.
Although it took time, conservation efforts proved to be successful for the beloved bird. In 1973, the status of the bald eagle was reevaluated under the Endangered Species Act. Five years later, it was decided that all bald eagles should be listed as endangered.
By 1995, the bald eagle populations were ready for another reevaluation of their status. At this point their status was changed from endangered to threatened. Finally, in 1999, it was determined that all bald eagle populations had recovered significantly and they were delisted.
Bald eagles live in 48 of our 50 states, and each population has faced different challenges along the road to recovery. Though the road has been somewhat arduous, each story is unique and worth exploring. For instance, learn more about bald eagles at Bear Swamp and how they went from a population of 1 to 135.
Each week, throughout this ruby anniversary year of the Endangered Species Act, we’ll highlight stories of conservation success in every state across the country. Stay tuned!