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Bald Eagles
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Range of the Bald Eagle

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By John L. EliotPhotographs by Norbert Rosing

Our majestic national bird is flying high over much of its former range and may soon be off the endangered list.

They ruled the skies on seven-foot (two-meter) wingspans when 17th-century Europeans arrived in North America. Throughout the continent, half a million bald eagles may have soared. But settlers blamed them for killing livestock, so shooting began—and the proud birds' numbers began to plunge.

In their northern range eagles remained relatively protected by isolation. But early last century, during Alaska's go-for-broke pioneer days, fishermen and fox farmers alleged that the birds were stealing their livelihood. The territorial legislature responded by enacting a bounty in 1917. By the time it was repealed in 1953, at least 128,000 bald eagles had been killed. It took 20 years for the Alaska birds to rebound. By 1973—the year the Endangered Species Act was passed—populations in Alaska and much of Canada were stable, so bald eagles were not protected by the act in Alaska or by federal law in Canada. Today some 100,000 thrive in those two locations.

In the lower 48 states the birds fared much worse. The Bald Eagle Protection Act of 1940 prohibited shooting or otherwise harming the birds in the U.S. but didn't cover the pesticides that within a decade began to destroy eagles' eggs. By the 1960s only about 400 breeding pairs of bald eagles remained in the lower 48. "The trend . . . may well make it necessary for us to find a new national emblem," Rachel Carson warned in her 1962 masterwork, Silent Spring. The banning of DDT in 1972 and other measures launched an amazing comeback by the eagles, whose status changed from endangered to threatened in 1995. Today, with more than 6,000 breeding pairs, bald eagles may soon be taken off the endangered species list entirely, their survival as an icon secured—for now.

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Sights & Sounds

Join photographer Norbert Rosing as he follows the flight of bald eagles.


VIDEO Norbert Rosing talks about the challenges of photographing bald eagles. 

AUDIO (recommended for low-speed connections)
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Eagle Audio

"Eagle Lady" and conservationist, Jean Keene recorded these sounds of bald eagles and other birds from her yard in Homer, Alaska.
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Bald eagles may soon be removed from the endangered list. Should they be?

More to Explore

In More to Explore the National Geographic magazine team shares some of its best sources and other information. Special thanks to the Research Division.

Did You Know?
In 1782 the Second Continental Congress officially adopted the bald eagle, unique to North America, as the national symbol of the United States. Benjamin Franklin later denounced the decision, calling the eagle a "bird of bad moral character….too lazy to fish for himself." Franklin's choice? The wild turkey.

—Kathy B. Maher

Did You Know?

Related Links
American Bald Eagle Information
This website provides a wealth of facts about the bald eagle, including advice on where you can go in the United States to view the birds.

American Bald Eagle Foundation
Dedicated to the preservation of bald eagle habitat by sponsoring research activities, the American Bald Eagle Foundation, based in Alaska, presents information about the species and a photo gallery of stunning images.

Alaska Department of Natural Resources
This site features links to state parks in Alaska, including Kachemak Bay State Park and Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve, two strongholds of the bald eagle.

Canadian Wildlife Service
Find out more about Canada's largest bird of prey, the bald eagle, at this informative website, which includes a reading list.

National Wildlife Federation
What can you do to help protect bald eagles? The website of the National Wildlife Federation spotlights conservation efforts and suggests ways you can get involved.


Beans, Bruce E. Eagle's Plume: The Struggle to Preserve the Life and Haunts of America's Bald Eagle. Scribner, 1996.

Brody, Jane E. "At Last, Eagles Regain a Perch in the Lower 48," New York Times, April 3, 2001.

Buehler, David A. "Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)," The Birds of North America, No. 506, eds. A. Poole and F. Gill. The Birds of North America, Inc., 2000.

Gerrard, Jon M., and Gary R. Bortolotti. The Bald Eagle: Haunts and Habits of a Wilderness Monarch. Smithsonian Institution Press, 1988.

Johnsgard, Paul A. Hawks, Eagles, and Falcons of North America. Smithsonian Institution Press, 1990.

Wolfe, Art, and Donald F. Bruning. Bald Eagles: Their Life and Behavior in North America. Crown Trade Paperbacks, 1997.


NGS Resources
Woolley, Marilyn. "A Bird Flies By," National Geographic Books, 2001.

Porteus, Peter L. "Eagles on the Rise," National Geographic (November 1992), 42-55.

Dunstan, Thomas C. "Our Bald Eagle: Freedom's Symbol Survives," National Geographic (February 1978), 186-199.

Herrick, Francis H. "The Eagle in Action: An Intimate Study of the Eyrie Life of America's National Bird," National Geographic (May 1929), 635-660.


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