The bald eagle made a recovery from the brink of extinction after nation-wide use of DDT, an insecticide that thinned their egg shells, was banned in 1972 and management plans were put into place to protect their habitat. Nesting pairs in the lower 48 states increased 10-fold, from less than 450 in the early 1960s to more than 4,500 adult in the 1990s.
On June 28, 2007, the Interior Department took the bald eagle off the federal list of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants and they were officially delisted in July.
But in Vermont, the power of their eight-foot wingspan soaring above the state remained a rare sight. No eagles were found breeding in Vermont for nearly 70 years. The eagle remained on Vermont’s endangered species list.
In December the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department announced its Bald Eagle Recovery Plan to guide the restoration of the eagle so they are able to “produce young on a consistent basis” and new generations will return to the state.
“No eagles were nesting in the state until 2008, when a pair of eagles successfully raised one of their young at a nest in Concord, Vermont,” said Wayne Laroche, Vermont Fish and Wildlife Commissioner.
Two pairs were documented in 2005 in the Connecticut River valley. In spring 2006 one of the pair hatched the first young in the state but the hatchlings did not survive to fledgling.
The Recovery Plan hopes to bring back the eagles to breed in the state as they do in all surrounding states and Canadian provinces. If successful, the bald eagle would be removed from Vermont’s list of endangered and threatened species and the sight of it again restored to the region.
Efforts were made when the state, nonprofit organizations and volunteers partnered in a three-year recovery plan in 2003 that resulted in releasing 29 captive young bald eagles in the Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area in Addison. Nine pairs of nesting eagles birthed five fledglings in 2010, according to John Buck, Fish and Wildlife’s Migratory Bird Biologist.
The bald eagle is the only eagle unique to North America. The northern bald eagles fly into the southern states and Mexico and the eagles in the south fly north into Canada, making migratory stops along the way crucial for rest and replenishment. As development and pollution caused their habitat and health to disappear, the bald eagle was declared officially endangered in 1967 everywhere in the United States, preceding the Endangered Species Act of 1973.
Researchers estimate that before Europeans arrived on the continent there were as many as up to half a million bald eagles living in what became the United States. Large numbers were declining by the 1940s after a century of clear-cutting forests and the spread of developing communities. Game hunters increased their bounties on wildlife, further decreasing their food supplies. A drastic decline between the 1950s and 1970s was caused by the use of DDT and other chemicals that slowed calcium metabolism. By the early 1960s the population in the northeast fell to fewer than 100 birds. In neighboring New York State where there had been 72 nesting pairs, only one pair was seen. Maine’s thousands of eagles were reduced to 29 pairs by 1972.
The eagles remained listed under the Endangered Species Act in 43 of the 48 lower states and listed as threatened in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Washington and Oregon until 1995. In July 1995, the federal Fish and Wildlife Services raised the eagle’s status in all 48 states to threatened.
The bald eagle remains protected by the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.
Read the Vermont Bald Eagle Recovery Plan.