The Bald Eagle Defies Extinction
Many Americans feared the extinction of their national symbol, but the bald eagle has been slowing growing in numbers and largely recovered from its earlier decline. The bald eagle was found to be endangered in 1940 and a law was passed, the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, to protect it from hunting. Once the threat from hunting was gone, the species found its numbers declining further by the ingestion of DDT. In 1963 the numbers of breeding pairs was only 417, leading to the 1973 inclusion in the list of endangered species.
Instead of the expected extinction of the species, the bald eagle has executed a miraculous rise in the number of breeding pairs. Today the number of bald eagle breeding pairs is almost 10,000 and it is no longer listed on the endangered species list. The birds will not be abandoned by wildlife experts, however. The bald eagle's numbers will be monitored for a few years to make sure they do not begin to decline again. If the monitoring shows a decline in the number of breeding pairs, experts can then move to get the bird back onto the endangered species list.
There are legal protections for the bald eagle even without the endangered species list, such as the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. There is also protection afforded to the eagles from an act passed in 1918- the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. This treaty ensured that not only were migratory birds protected in the United States, but from hunting and trade in several other countries as well. This act provides protection in Canada and Mexico for the eagles that migrate across the border and makes it illegal for their nest and eggs, and even their feathers, to be bought or sold.
Bald eagles have further benefited from the DDT ban of 1972. The toxic chemical penetrated the entire food chain, resulting in the deaths of eagles as well as many other bird species. This pesticide spread from fields to waterways and then to eagles. When the eagles caught fish from these lakes and streams, the fish had already been contaminated. DDT kept bald eagles from being able to create eggshells with enough calcium to keep them strong enough to support the embryos. DDT devastated the bald eagle population, as mother eagles were unable to incubate the thin eggs, often cracking them in the nest. With DDT now gone, the number of bald eagles can continue to grow.
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