- Midwest Eagles
- Midwest Eagle Home
- Natural History
- Activities Near Nests
- Population and Nest Data
- Eagle Viewing
- History of Decline and Recovery
- Eagle Feather - Can I keep it?
USFWS Offices and Refuges Near You
The Midwest Region includes Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin. Find a location near you »
Conserving the Nature of America
The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.
Bald Eagle Recovery
When America adopted the bald eagle as the national symbol in 1782, the country may have had as many as 100,000 nesting eagles. The first major decline of the species probably began in the mid to late 1800’s, coinciding with the decline of waterfowl, shorebirds, and other prey.
Although they primarily eat fish and carrion, bald eagles used to be considered marauders that preyed on chickens, lambs, and domestic livestock. Consequently, the large raptors were shot in an effort to eliminate a perceived threat. Coupled with the loss of nesting habitat, bald eagle populations declined.
In 1940, noting that the species was “threatened with extinction,” Congress passed the Bald Eagle Protection Act, which prohibited killing, selling, or possessing the species. A 1962 amendment added the golden eagle, and the law became the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.
Shortly after World War II, DDT was hailed as a new pesticide to control mosquitoes and other insects. However, DDT and its residues washed into nearby waterways, where aquatic plants and fish absorbed it. Bald eagles, in turn, were poisoned with DDT when they ate the contaminated fish. The chemical interfered with the ability of the birds to produce strong eggshells. As a result, their eggs had shells so thin that they often broke during incubation or otherwise failed to hatch. DDT also affected other species such as peregrine falcons and brown pelicans.
In addition to the adverse effects of DDT, some bald eagles have died from lead poisoning after feeding on waterfowl containing lead shot, either as a result of hunting or from inadvertent ingestion.
By 1963, with only 487 nesting pairs of bald eagles remaining, the species was in danger of extinction. Loss of habitat, shooting, and DDT poisoning contributed to the near demise of our national symbol.
Why the Bald Eagle almost went extinct in this country
- Habitat was lost when virgin forests were cleared
- Animals that eagles eat (like shorebirds and ducks) also declined because of overhunting
- Eagles were shot because they were thought to threaten livestock
- DDT, an insecticide with widespread use, built up in adult eagles and caused them to lay thin-shelled eggs that cracked before the chicks could hatch.
Learn more about about DDT here.
What we did to bring the Bald Eagle back
- We banned DDT
- We prohibited killing of eagles
- We improved water quality in many of our lakes and rivers
- We protected nest sites
- We restored eagles back to areas where they had been eliminated
Bald Eagle Recovery by the Numbers
Bald Eagle Breeding in the U.S. (1963-2006)
Bald Eagle Breeding Pairs by State (1990-2006)
The Endangered Species Act directs the Service to prepare recovery plans for listed species. Regional Recovery Plans were prepared for the bald eagle. Recovery Plans focused time, money, and energy on priority conservation actions.
The number of nesting pairs increased from 487 in 1963 to 9,789 in 2006.
Proposed Rule to Delist : 1999 Proposal to Remove Bald Eagle from List of Threatened and Endangered Wildlife
Final Rule to Delist : 2007 Bald Eagle Removed from List of Threatened and Endangered Wildlife
- Questions and Answers about Bald Eagle Recovery and Delisting
- News Release: Bald Eagle Soars Off Endangered Species List Secretary Kempthorne: The Eagle has Returned
Post-Delisting Monitoring Plan States continued monitoring nesting bald eagles
Eagles still face challenges, but you can help!