For decades, the number of bald eagles in the United States has been dropping – sad and ironic, since the bird is not only an American icon, but also the national bird since 1782. Deforestation and modern agricultural pesticides are two of the main culprits. However, environmentalists like Patti Barber, a biologist with the Pennsylvania Game Commission, are now noticing a turnaround in the trend, thanks to concerted efforts. “It’s hard to step away from the fact that they are our nation’s symbol and knowing that they’ve now come back from the brink,” said Barber. “I think a lot of people have a lot of pride that we managed to do that.”
When the majestic bird was chosen to represent the country which had arisen on its native habitat, the nation’s bald eagle population was close to 100,000. Starting as early as the 1800s, population decline was noted, mostly due to the destructions of the birds’ native habitats through logging. A much more severe reduction in population occurred when the pesticide DDT was spread throughout the country’s agricultural land. Birds ingested the poison in fish and other types of prey. This resulted in many fatal genetic issues and birth defects in future generations of eagles. By the time the chemical pesticide was banned in 1972, the animal was already classified as endangered in 43 states.
Conservation efforts, spanning years, have attempted to protect and rebuild the eagles’ habitats across the country. As a result, almost 70,000 bald eagles now inhabit the United States.