Bald Eagles are bouncing back from the brink of extinction, research shows. The official US mascot is now thriving and populations are continuously growing, but challenges are not yet over for them. Even so, it’s a remarkable conservation achievement.
The bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) is a sea eagle found predominantly in North America (especially in the US). It is found near large bodies of open water with an abundant food supply and old-growth trees for nesting. Bald eagles are not actually bald, their name deriving from an older meaning of “white headed”.
The bird is both the national bird and national animal of the United States of America, appearing on its seal (Benjamin Franklin actually wanted to make the turkey the national bird, but his idea was rejected). In the late 20th century it was on the brink of extinction, but has since made a spectacular recovery, and is now no longer endangered. An estimated 100,000 bald eagles resided in the wild at the end of the 18th century, but only 487 nesting pairs resided in the continental U.S. by 1963. Now, it’s estimated that there are 69,000 birds throughout the country.
Bald eagles weren’t directly threatened, but they suffered indirectly due to the use of pesticides, DDT and lead contamination. DDT was especially harmful when it was used in large quantities to kill mosquitoes during an effort to eradicate malaria.
All in all, it was a successful efort – hopefully one which will be replicated with other endangered species.
“It’s hard to step away from the fact that they are our nation’s symbol and knowing that they’ve now come back from the brink. I think a lot of people have a lot of pride that we managed to do that,” Patti Barber, a game commission biologist in Pennsylvania, said in a statement.
The bald eagle is a sacred bird in some North American cultures, and its feathers, like those of the golden eagle, are central to many religious and spiritual customs among Native Americans.