Saturday, January 21, 2012


Bald Eagle- MDC Gallery
We are all aware of the decline in eagle populations in the mid-century and the dramatic recovery of our American emblem.  I usually think of their return from near extinction as a product of the banning of DDT which was used to poison many animals in the food chain.  Eagles accumulated DDT predominately from eating carrion of poisoned animals, and the toxin weakened their egg shells.  Francis Skalicky reminds us in Thursday's News-Leader story that humans had an even more direct hand in the threat to eagles in the first half of the century.
"The eagle is a curse to the rest of the animal kingdom and the sooner it is exterminated, the better off the game will be."  -Valdez Miner newspaper, Alaska, 1920 
From 1913 through 1953 Alaska actually had a bounty on eagles which some thought were destroying the salmon fishing industry.  In a two year period alone they paid bounties on 27,843 eagles.  Subsequent studies showed eagles had little effect on salmon fishing.

Meanwhile, in western states they were blamed for the deaths of young lambs.  Their main diet is fish and carrion and being found eating a dead lamb was considered evidence of their guilt.  Seven hundred dead bald eagles were found on a Wyoming sheep ranch, the victims of poison and shooting from a helicopter.  It is now well accepted that they don't significantly prey on lambs.

We have come a long way in conserving wildlife since then, although local debates still occur over restoration of predators such as wolf and otter.  At least we are now having the conversations.


  1. I have spent time on the shores of Lake Winnipeg watching the bald eagles. An eagle can hardly be accused of depleting stocks. A fish a day doesn't make a threat. By far the most destructive species on fish populations because of their large numbers were the gannets and terns. Eagles left the area because bigger fish were unable to find forage fish.

  2. Thanks for the insight into the history of the endangerment of extinction to eagles and their successful restoration. Enjoyed reading the post.