Shyamala Rao - Artist
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Welcome to my blog. This will be an ongoing blog in which I will discuss things I am working on, as well as my thoughts on wildlife conservation. Please come back to this page regularly, as I will update it from time to time.

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January 27, 2011

Back from the Brink: Conservation and the Bald Eagle

Filed under: Uncategorized — shyamala @ 8:13 am


Bald Eagle in Pastel I The Bald Eagle belongs to the Genus Haliaeetus which means “Sea Eagle.” Sea Eagles were in the Northern Pacific region and they separated into two different types, the Eurasian White tailed Eagle and the North American Bald Eagle. The Bald Eagle spread across the entire North American continent most probably around two million years ago.

The Bald Eagle became the US national bird in 1782, a symbol of freedom and strength. The bird was familiar to all Americans, native and recent European settlers. It was ubiquitous and plentiful. The progression of settlement of North America by Europeans led to a decline of the habitat of the Bald Eagle. Up to the end of the nineteenth century the Bald Eagle was everywhere in the Lower Forty Eight states and was often seen in Central Park in New York, in the Chesapeake Bay, and all along the eastern sea board. The birds were also living in large numbers along the west coast from Alaska all the way down to California.

One would like to believe that this symbol of freedom and strength would be sacred, revered and preserved. After all, the Native peoples of North America have always viewed this bird as a spiritual messenger between humans and the Gods. However preservation has not been our history in North America. We allowed this noble and majestic bird to slide to the very brink of extinction.

The settlement of North America by Europeans led to increasing pressure on all animal and avian species. The Bald Eagle suffered along with the others. Numbers declined from hunting, lead pellets poisoning all living things, mercury levels in fish being another source of poison, electric wires, automobiles all played a role in declining numbers.

In the twentieth century the fate of the Bald Eagle worsened significantly. The numbers began dwindling ever faster, with rapid habitat destruction. The old tall trees were felled fast and furiously for the lumber and paper industry. Nesting locations simply vanished. The birds were consuming fish contaminated with ever increasing levels of mercury and were getting poisoned. The animals continued to be shot with lead pellets and the birds were ingesting the lead and dying of lead poisoning. From the 1940s the numbers began sliding down noticeably. Biologists and bird watchers noted the disappearance of Bald Eagles in state after state. By the 1960s there were fewer than five hundred breeding pairs left.

Law makers took protection measures, to little or no avail. In 1940s the Bald Eagle Protection Act was passed and it became illegal to shoot, hunt, trap or trade any Bald Eagle. In 1960 the Endangered Species Preservation Act was passed. A list of endangered species was developed. In 1967 the Bald Eagle was added to the list. It was still unclear why the birds were declining so very rapidly.

Bald Eagle in Pastel  II Since the 1940s DDT was used as a pesticide by farmers and as an insecticide and mosquito destroyer by Public Health authorities. DDT was entering the water supply and was present in all animals and fish. Bald Eagles ate these contaminated fish and animals and ingested the DDT. The DDT prevented the formation of strong eggshells and when the birds laid eggs the shells were so fragile that when the parent sat down to brood, the shells broke and the chicks died. The decimation of raptor population and the connection to DDT was not made till the mid sixties. It took almost ten years to get law makers to ban DDT. Finally in 1972 DDT was banned once and forever, in the United States. The turn around began slowly from that point onward.

In 1973 the Endangered Species Act was passed and the Bald Eagle was the first to be placed on the list. There was genuine concern that this loved and revered national symbol would disappear altogether. The placement of the Bald Eagle on the endangered species list meant a Species Survival plan would be developed. This included banning DDT, protecting habitat and the penalty of sufficiently large fines for killing a Bald Eagle.

Pairs of Bald Eagles were captured by scientists and placed at the Patuxent Wildlife Center in Maryland. The eggs were removed and placed in incubators. The eggs hatched and the chicks were fed by using a simulated eagle’s head and human hands never handled the chicks. When the chicks were ten weeks old they were placed in cages on top of tall trees and food was left for them daily. At twelve weeks the cages were removed and the birds were able to fly a little every day. They continued to be fed daily. The program lasted from 1974 to 1988. In that time over one hundred Bald Eagles had been released into the wild from the wildlife center.

DSCN1392_r1_r1 Since the laws were passed and a number of biologists and bird watchers, conservationists and interested citizens have become involved and participated in a massive nation wide effort to not allow this symbol of this nation to just vanish. The efforts have included setting aside habitat areas, working with utilities to alter the type of poles and the high wires to reduce risk of birds crashing headlong into them, altering the use of pesticides and the types of pesticides, setting up refuges for rescue and rehabilitation of injured birds, using biology to try to get the females to lay two sets of eggs in one season, providing safe havens for the birds where they nest and keeping tourists and visitors from intruding. So many large and smaller steps have been needed to rebuild the population of the Bald Eagle.

Finally in 2007 victory was declared and the Bald Eagle was taken off the endangered species list amidst general rejoicing. Now it is believed that there may be about 10,000 nesting pairs in the lower forty eight states. Perhaps we will see the dawning of a day, when once again each and every resident would have had the privilege of seeing this large, majestic and glorious bird soaring in the skies over North America. Soaring overhead and reminding each of us the reasons for this being the national symbol. The Bald Eagle, with power and strength, grace and beauty and an absolute confidence in his role and place in the Universe and in our hearts has been brought back from the precipice of extinction with American know how and in grand American style.


  1. Enjoyed reading your blog, I think this eagle still needs to be protected and should continue to be regarded as semi-endangered, putting birds in and taking them off categories is a good activity, as it shows that we care, somehow this exercise ought to be followed more even for the common sparrow you know there are not as many birds around to begin with in general nowadays and the future is just so GRIM!!

    Comment by KUDRAT — January 27, 2011 @ 6:22 pm

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