The Inspiring Story of Bald Eagles

While we were driving our son back to school on Sunday, we crossed the great Mississippi River. Due to the mild weather, parts of the river are still open and not frozen. There, in the trees, lining one of the pieces of land in the slough, were a pair of Bald Eagles, resplendently sitting with their white heads, tails, and orange beaks visible between the branches!

My husband spotted them first, calling out to my and our son to quickly look where he was pointing.  Seeing Eagles always gives my husband and I a thrill, as we recall them being placed on the endangered species list when we were children.  We recounted this to our son, who fortunately,  has been able to gaze at these majestic birds over his entire life.

In the early 1960’s Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring highlighted the environmental dangers of pesticide use. Sure enough, it was found that DDT, a common pesticide at the time, was poisoning Eagles through their consumption of contaminated fish. Eagles mainly eat fish and carrion.  Simultaneous problems of decreased habitat and of being shot by humans (before this was illegal), compounded the poisoning issue. Eagles were in short supply. I know I never saw one until I moved to the midwest, right before the turn of the century!

This brief history explained to our son our obvious joy when we had an eagle sighting! There was a time that our beautiful national symbol was endangered, threatened, and on the decline. According to the USFWS, only 487 nesting pairs existed in 1963.  Extinction was possible. This is a story we might want to share with those of younger generations.

But, today, despite a precarious history, Bald Eagles are a conservation success story! Today, as I drove the Great River Road to Iowa (Highway 35) that runs alongside the Great Muddy, I saw ten bald eagles! Ten! Six were travelling in pairs, one was in a tree overlooking the water, and the remaining three were gliders that identified themselves as the sun reflected off their white heads and tails.

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The protection of this species came after a problem was identified. They were placed on the Endangered Species List in 1967, made possible by the Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1966.  By 1972, DDT was banned.  Once the Eagle was listed as endangered, the pesticide was banned, and killing or harming of Eagles became illegal, recovery efforts were mounted.  By the mid-1990’s, the status of the Bald Eagle species was changed to threatened, rather than endangered. After a long period of monitoring, the Bald Eagle was removed from the Endangered and Threatened Species Lists in 2007.

Now, fifty plus years after being close to disappearing, I can take a drive and see ten of these beautiful birds soaring over the open waters of the Mississippi River!  There is no doubt; Bald Eagles are a conservation success story in the United States! Their rebound offers me hope for the species we find in similar peril today, such as the Monarch Butterfly.

With hard work to restore and conserve habitat, increase awareness, encourage involvement, and decrease chemical use, perhaps we can also secure a story of success for the Monarch. After today, I have hope that it is possible!

If you are interested in knowing more about the past plight of Bald Eagles, here are two sources of information from which I gathered some of the chronological information for this post:

7 Thoughts

  1. Thanks so much for sharing this celebration of bald eagles! I am lucky enough to live in Maine where I often see them. My slice last week was about the joy of watching the sun rise with the eagle who hangs out by the river in my town. How lucky you are to see 10 of them! Thanks for an uplifting post and a reminder to celebrate successes when we see them.

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    1. Thanks so much! Yes, I felt very lucky yesterday due to seeing 10 adults bald eagles! Today, I spent quite a long time photographing what I thought was a juvenile who was just sitting in a tree near my house. I’m glad you enjoyed the post!

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  2. Ten in one day!!! That’s amazing. I remember those days when eagles were endangered. This is a happy story. We have some that nest over the Potomac River near Washington, DC. It’s always a JOY to see them, but I don’t get to the river often enough! Although I get just as much joy seeing a yellow finch or a bluebird:). This is a lovely example of narrative, informational and reflective writing!

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    1. Thanks for your kinds words. I think we have a lot of birds due to the proximity to the Mississippi River. I heard a bird expert once tell conference attendees that we live in a huge flyway for migratory birds. I also very much enjoy seeing songbirds, too!

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  3. I’ve been part of a midwestern “survey” of eagles that happens in January for the last 5 years (I think). While in our area, the eagle population has gone down slightly (warmer winters = they stay farther north), the overall picture for eagles in Iowa is quite rosy! We live near the Decorah Eagle Cam, an Internet sensation (*insert eye roll*), we have a nest that’s built across the field from our school, and a newish nest on the way to my parents’ house about an hour south of here.

    It is awesome to see such a come back, and it gives me hope that someday, we can figure this out for other species on our planet as well! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow! That is a great form of citizen science, I hadn’t heard of yet! Good for you! We are close enough to know of the Decorah Eagle Cam, but I’d really like to make it up to Wabasha this winter to see the eagles on the river up there. I heard that it’s a sight to behold! I’m glad you could relate your own experience to the post.

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