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Our National Symbol

July 18, 2018
by Anesa McGregor , Emmetsburg News

Growing up in Iowa, I never saw a Bald Eagle in the wild. I

have always thought the Bald Eagle is such a majestic bird, but

when you look at its eyes, it's a majestic bird with an attitude.

We all learned about the Bald Eagle as a symbol of our nation

and yet I truly could not appreciate this special bird until the last

few years. The Bald Eagle is making a comeback in Iowa. I

am in awe every time I see an eagle fly or sitting on a branch.

I found this article that was in a newsletter on July 4 put out

by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources that really tells

the story of this glorious bird that was once on the brink of possible


With a wingspan of 6 to 7 feet, a bald eagle flying overhead

is a majestic sight and one to behold. Our founding fathers certainly

thought so making the bald eagle the national bird in

1782 and the National Emblem in 1789. As the only eagle endemic

to North America, the bald eagle was an apt choice for

inclusion in our national symbols.

Known for their distinctive white head, the bald eagle sits 3

to 3 feet tall and weighs 8-15 pounds. They primarily feed on

fish and are nearly always found near water, although they will

also eat waterfowl, especially the sick or injured, and carrion.

Bald eagles tend to nest from February through June, and it is

believed that the eagles mate for life and often return to the

same nesting site year after year. The nests can reach over 7

feet across, 12 feet deep, and weigh over two tons! Females

lay one to three eggs and incubation lasts 35-40 days. The

young's first flight is typically about 75 days after hatching.

When the bald eagle was first adopted as a national symbol,

its range spanned from Alaska and Canada to Northern Mexico

and it is believed that there were over 100,000 nesting eagles

in the country. The first decline of the species began in the

mid to late 1800s and coincided with the decline of waterfowl,

shorebirds, and other prey. At one point bald eagles were considered

marauders that preyed on domestic livestock like chickens

and lambs, and consequently they were frequently shot,

though bald eagles can only lift three to five pounds. Along

with habitat loss this led to further declines in the bald eagle

population. In order to combat this decline, in 1940, Congress

enacted the Bald Eagle Protection Act, later amended to be the

Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, which prohibits that

killing, selling, or possession of the species.

DDT (dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane), a synthetic pesticide

developed in the 1940s was another factor in the continued

decline in the bald eagle population. The pesticide was

eventually banned in 1972 after mounting evidence showed

that the cumulative buildup of the pesticide caused reproductive

issues and drastically reduced the fertility of bald eagles

and other bird species.

Unfortunately, by 1963, there were only 417 nesting pairs of

bald eagles remaining in the contiguous United States. Bald

eagles were one of the first species protected under the Endangered

Species Act of 1972. The banning of DDT and the

work implemented by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, State

Wildlife Departments, like the Iowa Department of Natural Resources,

and other partners facilitated and accelerated the rate

of recovery for the species through captive breeding programs,

reintroduction efforts, law enforcement, and nest site protection

during the nesting season. As of 2006, the last time there was

a national survey, the US Fish and Wildlife Services estimates

that there are at least 9,789 nesting pairs of bald eagles in the

contiguous United States. Thus, in 2007 the bald eagle was

delisted from the threatened and endangered species list.

Iowa had lost all of its nesting bald eagles by the early 1900s,

though prior to European settlement it had hosted hundreds of

nesting bald eagles. It wasn't until 1977 that Iowa once again

had an eagle nest. The bald eagle remains one of Iowa's

Species of Special Concern and monitoring remains a priority.

Iowa currently has at least 450 nesting pairs of bald eagles and

has eagles in every county in Iowa. The Iowa DNR monitors

eagle nest activity and success with the help of over 100 volunteer

monitors that have been trained through the Volunteer

Wildlife Monitoring Program. To get involved check out the

Volunteer Wildlife Monitoring Program webpage! The Iowa

DNR also performs a midwinter bald eagle survey, which

while variable from year to year shows a sharp increase in the

numbers of eagles in the 1990s and slower growth in the 2000s.



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