America's national bird shed an unwelcome title in June 2007: endangered. The U.S. Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne announced that the bald eagle has been removed from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants.
"I am proud to announce: the eagle has returned," Kempthorne said at a ceremony at the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C. "In 1963, the lower 48 states were home to barely 400 nesting pairs of bald eagles. Today, after decades of conservation effort, they are home to some 10,000 nesting pairs." Alaska and Hawaii are not part of the lower 48 states.
The bald eagle has been our national bird since 1782. The Founding Fathers had a hard time agreeing on which native bird should have the honor—Benjamin Franklin strongly preferred the turkey! The bald eagle appears on the Great Seal of the United States, U.S. coins, the $1 bill, all official U.S. seals, and the President's flag.
The bald eagle appears on the Great Seal of the United States, U.S. coins, the $1 bill, all official U.S. seals, and the President's flag.
Scientists attribute the decline in the bald eagle's population mostly to the widespread use of DDT, a pesticide that was introduced after World War II and banned in 1972. The chemical caused female eagles to lay eggs with weak shells that cracked when the mother tried to incubate them.
Illegal hunting and the destruction of the eagles' natural habitat also contributed to their near extinction. In fact, these practices, along with the introduction of exotic species and pollution, have put more than 5,600 species of animals and plants at risk of becoming extinct. Currently there are about 1,000 species of animals and plants that are endangered.
Currently there are about 1,000 species of animals and plants that are endangered.
The Endangered Species Act was passed in 1973 to save threatened animals and plants. The bald eagle was one of the first species protected under the act. Other animals that have been removed from the endangered list include the peregrine falcon, the red kangaroo, and the gray whale.
"It's fitting that our national symbol has also become a symbol of the great things that happen through cooperative conservation," said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director H. Dale Hall.
Officials will monitor the bald eagle closely to make sure it continues to thrive. Two federal laws—the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act—prohibit anyone from killing, hurting, or taking the birds, their eggs, or nests. If bald eagle populations dwindle again, officials can recommend that they be placed back on the endangered list.