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Bald eagle (Continental U.S. DPS)

The bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) first declined in the 1800s at the hands of trophy hunters, feather collectors, and wanton killing [1]. By the late 1940s, the use of DDT and other organochlorines became increasingly widespread. DDE, a breakdown product of DDT, accumulates in the fatty tissue of female eagles, impairing the formation of calcium needed for normal egg formation, causing a decline in reproductive success. Eagle numbers plummeted, and in 1967 the species was listed as endangered in the lower 48 states [1]. It was joined by the American peregrine falcon, Arctic peregrine falcon and brown pelican in 1970. The plight of these large birds led to a ban on DDT production and sale in 1972.
Due to the DDT ban, increased habitat protection, and aggressive captive breeding and translocation programs, the number of bald eagle pairs in the Lower 48 soared from 416 in 1963 to 9,789 in the latest census between 2004-2006 [2]. In 1984, thirteen states in the Lower 48 lacked nesting eagles, in 1998 the species was absent from two. In 2006 it nested in all 48 states. The eagle was proposed for delisting in 1998 [1] and again in 2006 [4]
The bald eagle is managed under five federal recovery plans:
Chesapeake Recovery Region: Virginia east of Blue Ridge Mountains, Delaware, Maryland, the eastern half of Pennsylvania, West Virginia Panhandle, and two-thirds of New Jersey.
Delisting goals were met in 1996, with 300 occupied breeding areas estimated in 1992 and 538 in 1998 [1].
Northern States Recovery Region: 25 Northernmost states.
Delisting goals were met in 1991, with 1,349 occupied breeding areas over 20 states, and 2,204 breeding areas recorded in 1998.
Pacific Recovery Region: Idaho, Nevada, California, Oregon, Washington, Montana, and Wyoming.
Numeric delisting goals were met in 1995, but the distribution goals were not yet fully achieved as of 1998. In 1998, there were an estimated 1,480 breeding pairs [1].
Southeastern Recovery Region: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and eastern Texas.
Downlisting goals were met between 1991 and 1998. In 1998, there were an estimated 1,485 occupied breeding areas [1].
Southwestern Recovery Region: Oklahoma and Texas west of the 100th meridian, New Mexico, Arizona, and California bordering the Lower Colorado River.
As of 1998, the delisting goals had not been met. Forty breeding pairs were present in 1998, with 36 occurring in Arizona and four in New Mexico [1].
In the eight Northeast states from New Jersey to Maine and Vermont, nesting eagle pairs increased from 21 in 1967 to 562 in 2005 [5]. The majority were in Maine which supported all 21 pairs in 1967 and 385 of the 2005 pairs. Eagles returned to Massachusetts and New Hampshire in 1990, with the former supporting 19 pairs in 2005 and the latter eight in 2004. In 2005 there were 53 pairs in New Jersey, 94 in New York, and one in Vermont. The Northeast is also an important wintering area, with the Connecticut population increasing from 20 to 92 between 1979 and 2005, and the New York population increasing from 6 to 194 between 1978 and 2006.
[1] U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1999. Proposed rule to remove the bald eagle in the Lower 48 states from the list of endangered and threatened wildlife. Federl Register, July 6, 1999 (64 FR 36453)
[2] U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2007. Bald Eagle Numbers Soaring. May 14, 2007 press release.
[3] U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2006. Removing the bald eagle in the Lower 48 States from the list of endangered and threatened wildlife; reopening of public comment period with new information. Federal Regiter, February 16, 2006 (71 FR 8238).
[4] Center for Biological Diversity. 2006. Bald eagle trends in the Northeastern United States. Tucson, AZ.
Banner photo © Phillip Colla