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Bald Eagle Recovery and Protection Status

When America adopted the bird as its national symbol in 1782, as many as 100,000 nesting Bald Eagles lived in the lower 48 United States (excluding Alaska and Canada). By 1963, only 417 nesting pairs were found in the lower 48. The mass shooting of eagles, use of pesticides on crops, destruction of habitat, and contamination of waterways and food sources by a wide range of poisons and pollutants all played roles in diminishing their numbers. For many years the use of  the insecticide DDT caused thinning of eagle egg shells, which often broke during incubation.  (Note:  Besides crops, DDT was sprayed in a variety of habitats, including in buildings.)  DDT was banned from use in the U.S. in 1972.

Following passage of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA), the Bald Eagle was listed as Endangered in the lower 48 states, except in Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, Washington, and Wisconsin, where it was designated as Threatened.  In 1995, the Bald Eagle was down-listed to Threatened in all 48 lower States. 

The bald eagle was delisted from its Threatened status on June 28, 2007 in the lower 48 states. Its primary legal protection was transferred from the Endangered Species Act to the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (BGEPA), which also applies to Alaska. "Disturbance" of bald and golden eagles had already been prohibited under the BGEPA. However, since "disturb" had never been defined in this Act, it is being defined to protect both eagle species and their habitats. The new definition is:

"Disturb means to agitate or bother a bald or golden eagle to the degree that causes, or is likely to cause, based on the best scientific information available. (1) injury to an eagle, (2) a decrease in its productivity, by substantially interfering with its normal breeding, feeding, or sheltering behavior, or (3) or nest abandonment, by substantially interfering with its normal breeding, feeding, or sheltering behavior."

Further guidance was also finalized on June 28, 2007 for eagle management and for preventing negative impacts that could violate the Eagle Act. See the "National Bald Eagle Management Guidelines" at http://www.fws.gov/migratorybirds/issues/BaldEagle/NationalBaldEagleManagementGuidelines.pdf.

Strong endangered species and environmental protection laws, as well as active private, state and federal restoration efforts, have brought back the U.S.A.'s Bald Eagle population from the edge of extinction. There are approximately 12,000 pairs of bald eagles nesting in the lower 48 states in 2009. Over 40,000 individual Bald Eagles reside in Alaska.

Although Bald Eagles have made an encouraging comeback throughout the U.S.A., they continue to be harassed, injured and killed by guns, traps, power lines, windmills, poisons, contaminants and destruction of habitat.  Bald Eagles normally breed and forage on land areas that are adjacent to large bodies of water that are relatively free from human intrusion. These same shorelines are also prime targets for recreation and development by people.

Public awareness about their plight, strict enforcement of protective laws, preservation of their habitat, and support for environmental conservation programs can assure a healthy and secure future for the U.S.A.'s majestic and symbolic national bird.

Updated March 1, 2009


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