The number of American bald eagles has quadrupled since 2009, with more than 300,000 birds soaring over the lower 48 states, government scientists said in a report last week.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in a recent report that bald eagles, the national symbol that once teetered on the brink of extinction, have flourished in recent years, growing to more than 71,400 nesting pairs and an estimated 316,700 individual birds.
“We’re approaching 80 pairs of bald eagles statewide, which is absolutely wonderful, ” Dave Paulson of MassWildlife said. “This is a great time of year because, right now, the eagles have either laid eggs or they will be soon. They’ll start hatching in April and May, and they’ll be very active once that happens.”
Paulson said the eagles tend to nest in tall white pines near lakes, ponds and rivers. He said reporting of nests by the public helps the state agency paint a picture of the local population’s growth.
A nesting eaglet was seen last year on the South Shore of Massachusetts, Paulson said, and before that the last sighting of a baby eagle was 115 years ago.
“It really captivates the local community because they are this majestic species that people grew up not seeing, but we’re seeing them more and more,” he said. “The fact that they are starting to enter into these suburbs ad easterly towns is wonderful.”
United States Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland recently hailed the eagle’s recovery and noted that the majestic, white-headed bird has always been considered sacred to Native American tribes and the United States generally.
“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,″ said Haaland, the first Native American Cabinet secretary.
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Bald eagles reached an all-time low of 417 known nesting pairs in 1963 in the lower 48 states. But after decades of protection, including banning the pesticide DDT and placement of the eagle on the endangered species list in more than 40 states, the bald eagle population has continued to grow. The bald eagle was removed from the list of threatened or endangered species in 2007.
“It is clear that the bald eagle population continues to thrive,″ Haaland said, calling the bird’s recovery a “success story (that) is a testament to the enduring importance of the work of the Interior Department scientists and conservationists. This work could not have been done without teams of people collecting and analyzing decades’ worth of science … accurately estimating the bald eagle population here in the United States.″
The celebration of the bald eagle “is also a moment to reflect on the importance of the Endangered Species Act, a vital tool in the efforts to protect America’s wildlife,″ Haaland said, calling the landmark 1973 law crucial to preventing the extinction of species such as the bald eagle or American bison.
Smith also said the 1970s were a turning point for the bird nationwide and, in Massachusetts specifically, Paulson said reintroduction of bald eagles into the wild started in the 1980s.
“The eagle numbers have gone up dramatically over the years,” said Norman Smith, former director of the Massachusetts Audubon Society’s Blue Hills Trailside Museum in Milton. “They’ve recovered quite a bit.”
To estimate the bald eagle population in the lower 48 states, Fish and Wildlife Service biologists and observers conducted aerial surveys over a two-year period in 2018 and 2019. The agency also worked with the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology to acquire information on areas that were not practical to fly over as part of aerial surveys.
Contributing: The Associated Press
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