Two or three decades ago, a bald eagle sighting was big news. When a call came in that one of the majestic birds was nearby, newsrooms would scramble a reporter and photographer in an effort to capture an image of the stately bird, whose numbers had fallen precipitously close to extinction.
Nowadays, anyone with a keen eye and a few hours to kill on a road trip likely will see a bald eagle along waterways, in trees and possibly feeding on carrion in a ditch. They are massive, easy to identify and, when spotted, stir a bit of patriotic pride.
The North Dakota Game and Fish Department last week announced it is seeking information on bald eagle nests throughout the state. The department asks residents to report nests with eagles present – not just an individual eagle sighting – at the Game and Fish website, gf.nd.gov.
The department says it’s important to not disturb the nests or the birds that live there, since that could cause eagles to leave eggs or young birds unattended.
According to the Game and Fish Department, nearly 300 active bald eagle nests can be found throughout North Dakota. This is in a state that in 1978, according to a piece written in 2017 by North Dakota Game and Fish biologist Doug Leier, “had no nesting pairs and hadn’t for quite some time.”
In Minnesota, wildlife officials say that state has the most eagles among the lower 48 – apparently, there are as many nesting pairs as bodies of water in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
What a remarkable, almost unbelievable, recovery.
A report last week by Forum News Service noted bald eagle numbers have quadrupled since 2009, to about 71,400 nesting pairs and a total population of 316,000 nationwide. In the early 1960s, the birds had dwindled to only 417 known nesting pairs.
In hopes of saving the remaining birds, bald eagles were placed on the national Endangered Species List in the 1970s. Other actions helped, too, including a ban on the pesticide DDT, which was finding its way into fish and, through the food chain, into eagles. The chemical caused fragile egg shells, reducing eagle birth rates.
As FNS reported last week, improved habitat and laws that restrict killing of raptors helped, too.
The result: In 2007, the eagle population had responded so vigorously that they were taken off the endangered species list.
To see the recovery first hand, drive pretty much anywhere along the Red River in North Dakota, or head into the forest and lakes country of northwest Minnesota. Along the way, the keen-eyed eventually will see an eagle in flight or, as mentioned, feeding along a roadside. Look for their nests, too. For those who know what they’re looking for, eagle nests are not particularly difficult to spot – often reaching 5 or more feet wide by a few feet deep. With no leaves on trees, they’re much easier to spot this time of year.
And if you see one, report it to North Dakota Game and Fish. But while doing so, keep a distance, leave the birds alone and just take a minute to consider the marvelous recovery of this national symbol.