Conserving the Nature of America
Bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). Credit: USFWS
Bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus).  Credit: USFWS

Bald Eagle Population Recovery and the Endangered Species Act

Our National Symbol: Back from the Brink

The Diné, or Navajo, of the southwestern United States, tell how eagles originated when a warrior slew a monster. Seeing the beast’s offspring alone in their nest, he turned one into an owl and another into an eagle so they would not grow up to be evil.

Many of the first Americans developed stories about the eagles who share this continent. The eagle is the chief of all birds in legends of the Creek people of the Southeast.

The Pawnee of the plains and prairies held eagles as symbols of fertility because they build large nests high off the ground and valiantly protect their young.

In the myths of the Dene, Athabaskan-speaking peoples of Alaska, a prince once gave an eagle a salmon during time of plenty. Eagles repaid the debt in the lean year that followed by dragging salmon, sea lions, and eventually whales to shore in gratitude for the prince’s kindness.

The admiration and awe expressed in these stories remain true today. Of all the species found only in North America, the bald eagle may be the most recognizable. With a 7–foot wingspan and vision four times keener than ours, the bald eagle is an impressive bird. You don’t have to be a birder to feel exhilarated when spotting that dark body with bright white head and tail. The bald eagle is unmistakable; perhaps that is why it was chosen to be the symbol of our country.

After years under Endangered Species Act protection, the bald eagle has recovered from the brink of extinction and is no longer considered endangered or threatened. In April, Congress passed resolutions “Designating June 20, 2007, as ‘American Eagle Day’ and celebrating the recovery and restoration of the American bald eagle, the national symbol of the United States.” Clearly, attention is galvanized on this charismatic bird whose scientific name, Haliaeetus leucocephalus, means white-headed sea-eagle.

Dedicated individuals, organizations, state agencies, tribes, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and other federal agencies worked together to recover the bald eagle. In addition to symbolizing our nation, the eagle now represents all the other living creatures we have worked together to bring back from the brink.

The Bald Eagle in the Northeast Region

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Last updated: December 21, 2011