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
already been prohibited under the BGEPA. However, since "disturb" had
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
Updated March 1, 2009