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How the Bald Eagle Escaped Extinction

Jan 25, 2016

In 1914, the last passenger pigeon died in a Cincinnati zoo. The species had become extinct, gone forever from the Earth. In the early 1970s, America’s bald eagles were headed for the passenger pigeon’s fate. Faced with probable extinction, the eagle had become an endangered species.

Although extinction is a natural process, the worldwide rate of extinctions has increased alarmingly due to human activities. For example, the bald eagle’s problems were caused by destruction of its  habitat, disturbance of its nests, pesticide and lead contamination of its prey, and illegal hunting and trapping–all problems brought about by man.

While extinction is forever, endangered means there is still hope to pull a species back from the brink. In the case of the bald eagle, Congress banned the most harmful pesticides in the early 1970s, strict protective laws were enforced, critical eagle habitat was identified and protected, and eagles were reintroduced to areas where they had once flourished. Today, both the breeding range and the population size of bald eagles are expanding. In 2007, they were removed from the federal list of threatened and endangered species–their recovery aided by the help and support of public and private landowners.

All About the Bald Eagle 

  • In flight, bald eagles soar on rising warm air currents on flattened wings (not holding them V-shaped).
  • Bald eagles are usually observed near lakes, rivers, and marshes as they forage for fish or carrion.
  • Fish and carrion make up most of their diet.
  • Bald eagles reach maturity at age 4 or 5, and usually breed near where they were born.
  • They generally mate for life, but if one of the pair disappears or dies, the survivor finds another mate. Courtship includes special calls and flight displays.
  • Their nest is large and can be 13 feet deep and 8 feet across. A pair produces 1–3 eggs annually, but rarely do all three chicks reach maturity.

Learn more about bald eagles with MDC’s Field Guide.

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American Bald Eagle catching a fish
American Bald Eagle Catching a Fish

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Photo of bald eagle perched on a branch
Bald Eagle Perched
A mature bald eagle is unmistakable with its dark brown body, yellow bill, and white head and tail.

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