Bald Eagle Population: Decline, Recovery, and Protection

Bald Eagle Population: Decline, Recovery, and Protection Related Information:

It is believed that prior to the European settlers’ arrival on the shores of America; there were about 500,000 bald eagles in North America. In the early 1700’s there were close to half a million bald eagles in population. In 1782, when the bald eagle was adopted as the national symbol of USA; about 100,000 nesting pairs of bald eagles were said to be populating 45 of the lower 48 states. Since then the population of bald eagles has seen a rapid deterioration due to various factors. In 1940, the bald eagle was put on a list of ‘threatened’ species and as their number continued to fall, they were officially declared ‘endangered’ in 1967 when there were as few as 450 nesting pairs of bald eagles left in the lower 48 states.

The decline of the bald eagle:

The bald eagle is a majestic bird and due to its size and nature, it has few enemies in the wild. But for their survival they do require isolated surroundings with tall, adult trees, and fresh and clean water. Sadly these conditions have declined through out a vast area of the bald eagles’ habitat, which in turn have resulted in the decline of this bird.

The increasing usage of DDT and other pesticides after World War 2 has been the largest factor contributing to the death of bald eagles. When DDT was sprayed, its residue washed away into lakes and streams. The aquatic plants and tiny animals assimilated these harmful toxins and were then eaten by fish. This lead to the poisoning of bald eagles as fish is their primary source of food.

In the absence of availability of fish, the bald eagle feeds on other available options such as livestock. Farmers and ranch owners thus took to shooting down the bald eagle in order to prevent their farm animals from being killed.

Hunters had been using lead bullets to shoot and kill or maim waterfowl. The waterfowl were eaten by the bald eagles and because of the lead shots, they got lead poisoning and their numbers started to fall further.

Recovery of the bald eagle:

As the bald eagle population moved slowly but surely towards extinction, the need to do something to help the species survive became more apparent. Thus, in the mid 1970’s the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland began a program of breeding the bald eagle in captivity, to help increase their numbers.

They started with one pair and began studies into their behavior, functioning and other areas so as to develop a successful rehabilitation program. The aim was to try and breed enough stock to increase the numbers in areas where they were declining and also to re-introduce the bald eagle in places where they had been wiped out completely.

This captive breeding program proved to be a success and in 1988 the program was stopped as by this time enough stock had been released into the environment and bald eagles had successfully started to breed naturally.

Protection of the bald eagle:

Several measures were taken to protect the population of the bald eagle from deteriorating. These were:

  • The 1940 Bald Eagle Protection Act: which made it unlawful to kill, harass, and sell bald eagles.
  • Ban of the use of DDT in 1972.
  • The Bald Eagle Endangered Species Act of 1973.
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service program to phase out the use of lead shot for waterfowl hunting, which ended in 1991.

These measures helped to upgrade the status of the bald eagle from ‘endangered’ to ‘threatened’. As of May 15, 2004 it has officially been announced by the Bush Government that the bald eagle will also be taken off the threatened species list as their numbers have increased from about 450 pairs in 1963 to approximately 7678 pairs currently in the United States.