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Bald Eagle No Longer Endangered, But in the Clear?

Feb 17, 2015 01:12 PM EST
bald eagle

(Photo : Pixabay)

After being nearly wiped out from existence, the American bald eagle is no longer endangered, researchers report, as populations of this national symbol continue to soar. However, wildlife officials are taking this good news with a grain of salt, as it appears the majestic birds are not completely in the clear.

"It's hard to step away from the fact that they are our nation's symbol and knowing that they've now come back from the brink," Patti Barber, a Pennsylvania Game Commission biologist, told CBS News. "I think a lot of people have a lot of pride that we managed to do that."

The bald eagle was first elected the official symbol for the United States in 1792, due to the fact that the species is native to North America, and retains both strength and beauty. During this time, biologists estimate that there may have been about 100,000 of the birds living in the wild. But that number declined to dangerously low levels - as few as 500 nesting pairs, according to Defenders of Wildlife - and they were placed on the Endangered Species List.

The downfall of bald eagles began in the mid-1800s when populations of waterfowl, shorebirds and other prey fell. Then, after World War II, their situation got markedly worse when widespread use of the pesticide DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) became an issue. DDT seeps into waterways and collects in fish, which make up most of the eagle's diet. This chemical weakens the bird's eggshells and hinders their ability to reproduce.

Upon realizing its harmful effects on wildlife, DDT was soon banned in the United States in 1972.

Now, it seems that the bald eagle has made a comeback, with three spotted earlier this year during the annual Audubon Bird Count - a hopeful sign of its recovery. And its numbers have continued to grow. There are currently 69,000 bald eagles across the United States.

However, don't breathe a sigh of relief just yet. This national treasure has a host of all new problems. For one, wildlife researchers are witnessing an "alarming number" of bald eagles being treated for injuries, the majority of which are inflicted by other bald eagles. Why? It seems the now-thriving birds are competing for space.

"As the population has increased over the past 20 years, the amount of suitable habitat for bald eagles to breed in has decreased," Lisa Smith, the head of Tri-state Bird Rescue and Research Inc., told CBS.

Despite this fight for territory, bald eagles are determined to survive and thrive. In order to adapt to attacks from their own kind, they have started to nest in residential neighborhoods. So backyard birdwatchers can now admire these majestic birds, but watch out for your cats and small dogs, which may unwillingly become bald eagle prey.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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