Saturday, June 23, 2007

11,000 Pairs of Bald Eagles

The Center for Biological Diversity released a report on the status of bald eagles in the lower 48 contiguous states. The report estimates that there are 11,000 breeding pairs of bald eagles, up from 9,789 pairs last year and 417 pairs in 1963. From the report:

Half a million bald eagles inhabited the United States when the pilgrims arrived. Though the bird was made the U.S. national symbol on June 20, 1782, it suffered terrible abuses due to the mistaken belief that it was a dangerous predator. It was fed to hogs in Maine, shot from airplanes in California, poisoned in South Dakota, and hunted under a 50-cent bounty in Alaska. One hundred thousand eagles were killed in Alaska alone between 1917 and 1950. The state of Georgia declared that eagles, like the "hawk, owl, crow, sparrow, and meadow-lark, are considered to do more harm than good and may be shot at any time.”

These impacts declined somewhat with the passage of the Bald Eagle Protection Act of 1940, but everywhere eagle habitat continued to be logged, grazed, bulldozed and converted to farmland and housing. Eagles declined throughout the lower 48 and were extirpated from many states long before DDT became prevalent. The small populations that survived to the 1950s and 60s suffered catastrophic reproductive failure due to the thinning of their eggshells by DDT. All this began to change when the bald eagle was placed on the first national endangered species list in 1967. The listing (and that of the brown pelican and peregrine falcon) was a major factor in convincing Congress to ban most outdoor uses of DDT in 1972.
The report includes state by state graphs of the bald eagle population over the past 40 years. The graphs for local states are shown below, along the with description of the DC population. (Click to enlarge images.)

District of Columbia
The last bald eagle in Washington, D.C. deserted its Kingman Island nest on the Anacostia River in 1946 (134). From 1995 to 1998, urban youth volunteers with the Earth Conservation Corps released four Wisconsin-born eaglets per year in the U.S. National Arboretum on the west bank of the Anacostia River. Several Corps members were killed in gang-related violence during the project (149). Three of the released eagles-Tink, Bennie, and Darrell-are named after them. In 2000, eagles nested again D.C. on National Park Service land near the confluence of the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers (135). From their perch 80 feet high in an oak tree, they can see the Washington Monument and the National Cathedral. The nest was active in all years through 2007 (89), but did not produce chicks in 2005 or 2006 (111).
I do not know the exact nest location (and I would not give it here if I did), but I have probably seen these birds along the Anacostia and Potomac. Sometimes eagles will hang around the south end of the Hains Point golf course. If you are birding down there, keep an eye on the tall trees.

The strong population numbers for Maryland and Virginia are no surprise given the ideal eagle habitat around the Chesapeake Bay and Potomac River watershed.