Updated: March 24, 2013 6:12AM
The Eagle Nature Foundation has just released the results of its annual Mid-Winter Bald Eagle Count, which was conducted over two days late last month. The good news is that bald eagles in the Midwest continue to flourish. The bad news is that the ratio of immature birds, those less than 4 years old, to adults is down 5 percent from last year’s count.
While the Apple River-based group in far northwest Illinois, is worried about the percentage of immature birds, the comeback of the bald eagle in Illinois and southern Wisconsin is a success. That’s because 40 years ago the population of bald eagles across the country was at such a dismal low that the future of the country’s living national symbol was very uncertain. Along came the Endangered Species Act, which was signed by President Nixon on Dec. 8, 1973. As the act nears its 40th anniversary there is much to celebrate.
The Eagle Nature Foundation’s count determined 3,822 bald eagles were seen, 2,919 of which were adults, 36 were subadults and 741 were immature. This year, according to the group, the Wisconsin River had a record number of total bald eagles, while along the Mississippi River there were 1,670 more eagles than last year.
The bald eagle and other birds of prey faced declining numbers in large part because of poisoning by widespread and almost unregulated use of DDT, a pesticide that weakened birds’ egg shells, making them too fragile to survive to hatching. Thanks to the effort of the late Rachel Carson and other environmentalist, the pesticide was banned, and a serious effort was made to restore habitat.
The success is evident in the fact that on Aug. 9, 2007, the bald eagle population had recovered sufficiently to remove it from the federal list of threatened and endangered species.
Indeed, some of us remember the bald eagle spotted in Warren Township a few years back, snacking at a frozen pond on a gull which failed to move quick enough. While 20 years ago it was unlikely to see a majestic eagle, it can easily happen now. That delightful change in the outdoor world is worth celebrating.