Photo credit: Alaskan Dude/Creative Commons
On a ridgetop preserve in Pennsylvania, conservationists and bird watchers gathered for the annual count of migrating bald eagles. It's a tradition that has persisted for 76 years—since the founding of the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary.
This year, however, was a little different: Participates were treated to a record number of sightings—a reassuring sign of the incredible success of bald eagle conservation programs across the country.READ MORE: 6 Conservation Successes That Brought Animals Back from the Brink
Between the 1870s and 1970s, the bald eagle population shrunk steadily until, in 1963, there were only 417 breeding pairs left in the lower 48 states. Initially suffering from the pressures of habitat loss and hunting, the population didn't make a precipitous drop until the use of DDT weakened egg shells, bringing the juvenile survival rate to dangerously low levels.
Veteran bird-watcher Catherine Elwell, who has been visiting Hawk Mountain since the early 1970s, explained that "one...member always used to bring champagne in hopes we would see one." Indeed, sightings in the 70s were rare, reaching a low of only 13 bald eagles during the entire fall of 1975.
Since the banning of DDT—and the listing of the eagle as a protected species—the bird has made an strong comeback. This year, 407 eagles were spotted in Pennsylvania, smashing the previous record of 245 set just two years ago.
In 2007, the bald eagle was finally removed from the Endangered Species list: Proof that conservation programs can reverse even the most critically threatened species.
Read more about bald eagles:
Bald Eagle Diet Complicates Conservation Efforts
The Bald Eagle is Back in the Black
Desert Nesting Bald Eagles Set to Lose Protected Status
Beheaded Bald Eagle Traced Back to National Eagle Morgue