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Bald Eagles, Sea to Shining Sea

Agile and powerful, the majestic bald eagle — national bird of the United States — has long symbolized independence and freedom. This amazing bird is the second largest North American bird of prey, holds the record for the weight they are able to carry in their talons and builds the largest tree nest of any species — reaching up to one ton as successive generations of eagles build upon existing nests. For such a large and formidable bird, the bald eagle’s cries are relatively weak — the strong, high screech so often associated with them is actually that of the red-tailed hawk. The monogamous bald eagle preys mostly on fish and ranges from Alaska to Florida to the Channel Islands — sea to shining sea.

Bald eagle

Credit: Matthew Hull

But, just a few decades ago, we were on the verge of losing bald eagles, not just in the Channel Islands, but across the nation. Historically, the most damaging of the many threats faced by the eagle has been the use of DDT. This pesticide thinned the eagles’ eggshells, causing them to break during incubation. DDT was banned in the 1970s — the first step in the bald eagle’s recovery. By 1978, the bald eagle was listed as endangered in 45 states and threatened in five others.

But, our national bird’s problems did not begin and end with DDT. In fact, the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act had recognized the dwindling numbers of eagles in 1940, several years before DDT became available for agricultural uses. One of the culprits was habitat loss. Eagles need stands of trees relatively close to a body of water for nesting, so that they can rear their young close enough to their hunting waters to carry heavy fish back to the aerie.

American Forests has done our part over the years to help bring these captivating raptors back from the brink. In the past few years alone, we’ve planted hundreds of thousands of pine and spruce for bald eagles in places like Superior National Forest and Chippewa National Forest, home to the country’s largest population of nesting bald eagles. Through projects like the North Shore Collaborative Restoration and the Blowdown Reforestation, we aim to restore eagle habitat in forest areas damaged by fire, storms or infestation.

The widespread publicity of impact of the pesticide ban and its positive effect on the nation’s wildlife has made the eagle a symbol of the power of endangered species protection. On July 12, 1995, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service reclassified the Bald Eagle as threatened in most places, and, in 2007, the bald eagle was removed from the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife altogether, though they are still protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act of 1940. Given current projections, the species is well on its way to recovery throughout the nation.

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