The Bald Eagle Population Has More Than Quadrupled in the Lower 48 Since 2009

America’s symbol, the bald eagle, was at the brink of extinction just a few decades ago, due to habitat destruction and degradation, illegal shooting, and contamination of its food sources. According to a new report, the iconic bird has rebounded with a force.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently released updated bald eagle population data, which showed there were about 316,700 individual birds and 71,400 nesting pairs in the lower 48 during the 2019 breeding season. That’s a massive increase from 2009’s numbers: about 72,400 individual birds and 30,500 breeding pairs.

PHOTO: PIXABAY/SVEN LACHMANN

Regarding the good news, FWS Principal Deputy Director Martha Williams said, “The recovery of the bald eagle is one of the most well-known conservation success stories of all time. The Service continues to work with our partners in state and federal agencies, tribes, non-government organizations and with private landowners to ensure that our nation’s symbol continues to flourish.”

The FWS says bald eagles reached a population low of 417 known breeding pairs in the lower 48 in 1963. Their numbers have slowly rebounded since then, due to their decades-long protected status through the Endangered Species Act, the banning of the pesticide DDT, and conservation efforts across the nation.

To get their recent count, Migratory Bird Program biologists and observers from throughout the country did aerial surveys in 2018 and 2019. They flew over high-density eagle nesting areas to get an accurate estimate and count occupied nesting territories. For areas with fewer eagles and that were not ideal to check with a flyover, the FWS worked with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s eBird data to gather information.

PHOTO: PIXABAY/ALEXANDRA

Jerome Ford, FWS Assistant Director for the Migratory Bird Program, says, “Working with Cornell to integrate data from our aerial surveys with eBird relative abundance data on bald eagles is one of the most impressive ways the Service has engaged with citizen science programs to date. This critical information was imperative to accurately estimate the bald eagle population in the contiguous United States, and we look forward to working with Cornell in the future.”

Newly-minted U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland celebrated the success story of the bald eagle after the report came out, and she pledged to safeguard other important wildlife.

She said, “The strong return of this treasured bird reminds us of our nation’s shared resilience and the importance of being responsible stewards of our lands and waters that bind us together.″

PHOTO: PIXABAY/JAN TEMMEL

Haaland shared the importance of the Endangered Species Act, which she called a vital tool that has helped save American animals like the bison and bald eagle. She said she and her department are working to ensure the act remains strong and to review any recent actions that may have undermined it.

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