‘Success Story’: Bald Eagles Bounce Back Across U.S. – And In Georgia, Too

According to a new report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the number of bald eagles in the contiguous United States has quadrupled since 2009.

(Courtesy of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service)

Bald eagles are continuing to bounce back after nearly going extinct in the mid-1900s.

According to a new report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the number of bald eagles in the contiguous United States has quadrupled since 2009.

Federal scientists estimate there are now more than 300,000 bald eagles in the lower 48 states.

“This is truly a historic conservation success story,” U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland said on a virtual meeting with reporters Wednesday.

Bald eagle numbers had already begun declining because of habitat loss when their population took a deeper dive in the mid-1900s from the effects of the pesticide DDT.

The federal government protected them under the Bald Eagle Protection Act in the 1940s. But by the ’60s, there were just over 400 nesting pairs of bald eagles, said Martha Williams, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service principal deputy director.

In the 1970s, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency banned DDT and some other pesticides, and bald eagles were protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Now, federal scientists say there are more than 71,000 nesting pairs of bald eagles in the lower 48 states.

“Bald eagles are now prevalent enough that it’s hard to imagine there was a time when there were so few. But, in fact, our nation’s symbol has made a remarkable comeback,” Williams said.

The new estimate from the government relies on two different sources of information: Scientists doing aerial surveys from planes, looking for eagle nests, and also regular people out watching birds who shared what they saw with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, via the community science bird-listing app, eBird.

According to Amanda Rodewald with the Cornell Lab, more than 180,000 birders contributed information that went into the eagle population models the lab built.

“Outcomes like these illustrate the power of citizen science, and the power of collaborating,” she said.

Bald Eagles In Georgia

The federal report doesn’t estimate eagle populations by state, but the birds are doing better in Georgia, too.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources has estimated about 200 bald eagle nests in the state every year over the past several years, with the highest numbers on the coast.

That’s an improvement from the 1970s, when Georgia went years without a single known bald eagle nest.

Here, state wildlife officials monitor eagle nests from helicopters. Those surveys typically happen in the early months of the year, though this year’s have been limited by a combination of COVID-19 concerns and bad weather.

Bald eagles are no longer considered federally threatened or endangered, but they are still protected by the federal government by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

Georgia considers them threatened under its Endangered Wildlife Act.