American Bald Eagle

American Bald Eagle

The American Bald Eagle is also referred to as the Bald Eagle and the American Eagle. Its scientific name is Haliaeetus leucocephalus.

The American Bald Eagle used to be very common throughout most of the North American continent, from Alaska and Canada to northern Mexico. American Bald Eagles can still be found throughout this range, but their numbers have declined significantly during the last three centuries. The future does however look good for the American Bald Eagle and the situation is much less desperate today than a few decades ago.

The American Bald Eagle population has been estimated at 300,000 – 500,000 eagles in the early 18th century. A number of factors then worked together to decrease the population dramatically during the following 250 years. Human activity destroyed American Bald Eagle habitat throughout the continental U.S. and mass shootings of American Bald Eagle continued into the 20th century. Modern farming methods caused pesticide crops to enter the food chain. Simultaneously, lands and waterways became contaminated by a broad selection of toxics and pollutants. Since the American Bald Eagle is an apex predator it is extra sensitive to pollutions that accumulate in the food chain.

When DDT became widely used as a pesticide, it threatened the survival of the entire American Bald Eagle population. Adult birds can survive even high amounts of DDT, but the poison can make the bird sterile and unable to reproduce. Females that still manage to produce offspring will often form eggs with very thin shells. When the adult birds brood their eggs in the nest, the shells will therefore often break and cause the offspring to hatch prematurely and die.  

In the continental U.S., the number of nesting American Bald Eagle pairs had dropped below 10,000 in the 1950s. By the early 1960s, the situation was really severe and there were fewer than 500 nesting pairs of American Bald Eagle to be found in the continental U.S. Today, the American Bald Eagle population has increased to over 5,000 nesting pairs in the lower 48 states. Estimations show that the U.S. population is comprised of at least 20,000 eagles in the lower 48 states and 35,000 eagles in Alaska. 

The American Bald Eagle population has increased thanks to several contributing factors. The species is included in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, but has today been moved to the Lower Risk/least concern category. It is also protected by CITES and was downlisted to Appendix II in October 2004. In the United States, the American Bald Eagle is protected by the Lacey Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, the Bald Eagle Protection Act of 1940 and the Endangered Species Act of 1973. General environmental protection laws have naturally also played, and continue to play, a very important role when it comes to protecting the American Bald Eagle population. The 1972 U.S. ban on agricultural use of DDT had an especially large impact on the well being of the American Bald Eagle. Active state, federal and private conservation efforts are still necessary to ensure a thriving American Bald Eagle population in the United States, especially in the lower 48 states. The American Bald Eagle continues to be harassed by humans and illegal hunting still occurs.

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