Bald Eagle Numbers Soar Thanks to Endangered Species Act

Graphic by Annabel Driussi for Our Daily Planet

by Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer

The bald eagle population in the lower 48 U.S. states is now more than 316,000, quadrupling their numbers since 2009. Once close to extinction, the symbolic bird has made an impressive comeback in recent decades. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland called it a “historic conservation success story” when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service put out their report last week. 

Why This Matters: The bald eagle was among the earliest birds protected by the Endangered Species Act and was delisted in 2007. It’s a success story for the federal legislation, which currently protects about 100 U.S. bird species. But while the bald eagle’s comeback should be celebrated, it’s an outlier in terms of bird health nation-wide. Scientists estimate that North America has lost about 3 billion birds in the past 50 years, more than a quarter of the continent’s population. 

They posit that decline is from a combination of loss of habitat and toxic pesticide — and climate change will force birds to relocate, putting them at increased risk

Data improved by citizen science: For years, the federal U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has tracked the bald eagle recovery with counts from individual states and gathering aerial surveys, with pilots from the FWS’s Migratory Bird Program flying over areas known to have a high number of eagle nests to count how many are occupied.

In addition to bald eagle population growth, one of the reasons for this year’s higher count may be a collaboration between the FWS and eBird, an app developed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology that lets birders document their sightings. The app documents more than 100 million bird sightings annually around the world, and its crowd-sourced data from 180,000 bird watchers helped the government identify more eagles than its aerial surveys alone.

It’s heartening to see how we can all come together in different ways to conserve the birds that we all cherish,” Cornell Lab Center for Avian Population Studies Senior Director Amanda Rodewald said at a press conference last week

You can log bald eagles — or whatever other birds are in your backyard — by downloading eBird.

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