AN AMERICAN ICON HOPEFULLY HERE TO STAY
One of the great symbols of Americana and national pride is the mighty bald eagle, our national animal and national bird. But the history of the bald eagle in the United States has been as complicated as the “American Dream.” The bald eagle was chosen as the nation bird and has since made it’s way onto our coins, our seals and into our hearts. Contrary to popular belief, Benjamin Franklin was not known to have publicly nominated the turkey to be the national bird, but his observations of the bald eagle were very counter to the Society of the Cincinnati who supported the eagle as a national symbol:
“For my own part. I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen the representative of our country. He is a bird of bad moral character. He does not get his living honestly … besides he is a rank coward: The little king bird not bigger than a sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the district” – Benjamin Franklin
Despite his observations regarding the eagle the image of the bald eagle has been intricately tied with our nation’s cultural heritage. The bald eagle is an incredible bird that remains mated for life. It is known as an opportunist, that feeds mainly on fish but is not a picky eater and has been known to scavenge or steal food from other carnivores. But a huge threat to this amazing carnivore came as a result of what it was eating, or the contamination in it’s food source. Bio-accumulation, or the build up of toxic chemicals inside of a species threatened the bald eagle’s livelihood. The leading toxin that endangered this amazing bird was DDT (Bald eagles were also being impacted by oil, lead, and mercury pollution among other factors). The side effects of the toxin lead to thinner shells and inability to have viable or successful baby bald eagles.
In efforts to combat the sudden decline in this mighty bird, the bald eagle was placed on the Federal Endangered Species List and was put on the list in California in 1971. Stricter rules regarding pollution and pesticides also contributed to a slow increase in populations of bald eagles.
Today bald eagles are on the rise but little is known about the historical population size before it was
considered endangered. We do know that in the late 1960s and early 1970s, around the time when the bald eagle was first considered an endangered species, there were fewer than 30 nesting pairs remaining in California. According to efforts by the California government, “populations have been able to thrive and reproduce adequately in most of California.” And these birds are finally being able to re-occupy much of their former range. You might even be able to see some just outside of the Los Angeles area, we spotted these amazing birds at Lake Casitas that is in the Los Padres National Forest of Ventura County, California.
Click here to learn more about the California Bald Eagle Populations.