The bald eagle, officially recognized as the national bird of America, is a beautiful and majestic animal known for its regal posture, snow white head feathers and fierce adaptability over centuries on this continent. A pivotal character in countless Native American stories and ancient works of art, it now adorns United States currency, the official seal of the federal government and the presidential flag.
Though their numbers are now consistently on the rise, there was a time in rather recent history that saw the bald eagle population dangerously low throughout the country. Approximately 35 years ago, avid bird watchers and environmentalists began to notice that they were seeing fewer pairs of the birds in common Pennsylvania nest sites. Because bald eagles mate for life, seeing so many single adults without their partners became a sign that there was something seriously wrong.
Investigation into the continued disappearance of bald eagles revealed that a variety of changes to the birds’ environment were causing the drop in population. The use of a common and powerful insecticide known as DDT led to chemical alterations within adult eagles, resulting in disastrous changes to the formation of their eggs. Scientists found that birds exposed to DDT were laying eggs with dangerously thin and weak shells. When the eggshells cracked before the chicks were fully developed, the young would invariably die. In addition to facing these chemical hazards, bald eagles were often shot for sport, killed by ranchers in an attempt to protect their livestock or driven out of their habitats due to deforestation.
Now, thanks to the Endangered Species Act and various restoration programs throughout the northern portion of the country, the bald eagle’s numbers are beginning to soar once again. Through committed initiative and effective strategy, dozens of the birds have been relocated from Canada to the United States and are beginning to breed here, taking up new nests in environments suited to their needs. In order to continue to protect the population’s growth, multiple organizations plan to implement targeted monitoring programs over the next decade. Specially trained teams will observe the health, growth, breeding habits and egg laying frequency of nesting eagles every five years, taking down information and analyzing their data to ensure that the species continues to thrive.