The bald eagle has been a national symbol of the United States since 1782 — but not that long ago, this iconic species was on the verge of a complete extinction. In the late 1800s the eagle population had already begun to decline due to hunting and habitat loss, but the real threat came in the 1940s with the introduction of the pesticide DDT. Chemical runoff would contaminate fish, and then once ingested by the eagles, would cause the eagles to lay brittle eggs that would break before hatching. In 1963, there were less than 500 breeding pairs in the lower 48 states.
DDT was banned in 1972 and the bald eagle was officially listed as endangered in 1978, allowing their recovery to take off. Over the next 20 years, the population rebounded — and in 1995 the species’ was removed from the endangered species list entirely. Today, their numbers are thriving once again, with more than 70,000 breeding pairs of eagles observed in the lower 48 states. The bald eagle is seen as one of the most iconic Endangered Species Act success stories.
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