America’s national bird, the iconic bald eagle, continues to make a spectacular recovery ten years after it was removed from the Endangered Species List. For that we can be thankful as the U.S. celebrates Independence Day, not only for the saving of a majestic bird from extinction, but also as encouragement that we can make a difference if we unite behind a plan to restore and protect nature.
Forty years ago, the national bird was in danger of extinction throughout most of its range, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service says on its website. “Habitat destruction and degradation, illegal shooting, and the contamination of its food source, largely as a consequence of DDT, decimated the eagle population.” But habitat protection afforded by the Endangered Species Act, the federal government’s banning of DDT, and conservation actions taken by the American public have helped bald eagles make a remarkable recovery, the federal agency adds.
The fish-eating eagle had recovered so well that it was removed from the Endangered Species List in 2007. Today there are numerous reports of its ongoing recovery across the U.S., including the news last month (June 2017) that the counting of 30 breeding pairs meant that bald eagle numbers were fully restored in central coastal California, from Marin to Santa Barbara County, an area where they had been extirpated for decades.
The Ventana Wildlife Society (VWS) began reintroducing the raptor to central California from elsewhere in North America in the 1980s. Prior to that, “for 60 years, bald eagles were absent from central California during the summer breeding season,” said VWS Executive Director Kelly Sorenson in a report published by The Mercury News. The research findings were also reported by Sorenson in the Journal of Raptor Research.
Bald eagles typically mate for life, sharing parenting duties, such as “Mr. President” and “The First Lady”, a pair that raised their eaglets in a tulip poplar tree at the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington, D.C. The First Eagle Family garnered worldwide attention through DC Eagle Cam (watch the video below).
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species assesses the bald eagle (Haliaeetus Ieucocephalus) as a species of Least Concern, because of its very large range (most of North America), and because its population trend is increasing (more than eight-fold over the past half century). FWS estimates that there are at least 9,789 nesting pairs of bald eagles in the contiguous United States.
The bald eagle is no longer on the list of endangered species, but it remains under the protection of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. Killing, selling or otherwise harming eagles, their nests, or eggs, continue to be prohibited in terms of these laws.
Why is the bald eagle America’s national bird?
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the bald eagle has been the national bird of the United States since 1782, when it was placed with outspread wings on the Great Seal of the country (left). It appears in many government institutions and on official documents, making it the most pictured bird in all of America. The eagle appears on the President’s flag, the mace of the House of Representatives, military insignia, and billions of one-dollar bills.
What two American statesmen had to say about the bald eagle
I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen as the representative of our country; he is a bird of bad moral character; like those among men who live by sharping and robbing, he is generally poor, and often very lousy. The turkey is a much more respectable bird and withal a true, original native of America. — Benjamin Franklin
The Founding Fathers made an appropriate choice when they selected the bald eagle as the emblem of the nation. The fierce beauty and proud independence of this great bird aptly symbolizes the strength and freedom of America. But as latter-day citizens we shall fail our trust if we permit the eagle to disappear. —President John F. Kennedy
Read more about the bald eagle on the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Bald Eagle Fact Sheet.
Thank you for taking the time to learn more about the magnificent bald eagle. The interaction between animals and their environments is the engine that keeps the planet healthy for all of us. But for many species, time is running out. When you remove one, it affects us all.
The National Geographic Photo Ark is a multiyear effort to raise awareness of and solutions to some of the most pressing issues affecting wildlife and their habitats. The Photo Ark’s three-pronged approach harnesses the power of National Geographic photography and the bold ideas of our explorers. Led by National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore, the project aims to document every species living in the world’s zoos and wildlife sanctuaries, inspire action through education, and help save wildlife by supporting on-the-ground conservation efforts.
See what we can #SaveTogether before it’s too late.
Learn more about Photo Ark, help us save wildlife.
The best place to see bald eagles (National Geographic video)
The plentiful waterbirds of Oregon’s Klamath River basin make it the best place in the United States to see bald eagles: