50 Facts About American Bald Eagles

Last updated on March 25th, 2023

Conservation and Devotion

41. Chemical Culprit

A pesticide called DDT almost wiped out the bald eagle population. The numbers plummeted from 500,000 in the 1700s to 412 nesting pairs in the 1950s. DDT affects their calcium metabolism. It made egg shells thin and brittle such that they cracked during incubation.

42. Compounding Causes

The chemical castration was not the only problem. The eagles also lost much of their traditional habitat because of deforestation. Hunters also shot thousands of them, with many fearing that eagles grabbed young lambs and children.

43. First Legal Protection

In 1918, the US and Canada signed the Migratory Bird Treaty. It made hunting illegal for over a thousand species. The treaty also covers feathers, eggs, and nests. Other countries in North America joined later.

44. Focused Legislation

In 1940, Congress stepped up with the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. The law prohibited commercial killing and trapping of these birds. Later amendments increased restrictions and penalties, but the population continued to drop.

45. Pesticide Ban

Scientists eventually discovered the role of DDT. In 1972, the US banned the use of this pesticide. Canada and other countries adopted similar measures. The population bounced back, and the risk level changed from Endangered to Least Concern.

A Native American Cherokee elder.
A Native American Cherokee elder. Photo © Joe Sohm

46. A Sacred Bird

Native Americans consider the bald eagle a sacred bird. It is a messenger between gods and humans, carrying prayers up the sky. The Pawnees see them as symbols of fertility because of the way they protect their young and build high nests.

47. The Eagle Feather Law

Demand for eagle feathers made regulation necessary to protect the bird. Only individuals of certified Native American ancestry can get the feathers legally for religious use. You can find them in ceremonial fans, dresses, and headgear.

48. A Symbol of Honor

The Lakota people, also known as the Teton Sioux, traditionally gave an eagle feather to individuals who completed an honorable task. Nowadays, it can serve as a reward for milestones such as college graduation.

49. Roman Inspiration

In the eyes of the founding fathers, the Roman Republic represented the ideal. The golden eagle is a ubiquitous symbol in Ancient Rome, so they thought it was apt to adopt the bald eagle as the national symbol of the United States.

50. Bird Behaving Badly

Not everyone was happy with the selection. Benjamin Franklin could not hide his dismay in a letter to his daughter in 1784. He says the bald eagle is a poor choice because of its thieving tendency. It also lacks courage. Even small birds can drive it out with spirited attacks.

Bald eagles – quick facts

Binomial nameHaliaeetus leucocephalus
Conservation statusleast concern
SpeciesH. leucocephalus
SubspeciesH. l. leucocephalus – southern bald eagle

H. l. washingtoniensis – northern bald eagle
Incubationby both parents , 34 - 36 days
Eggs2, sometimes 1-3 (white)
Age at first flight10-12 weeks
Lifespanup to 50 years