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Eagles Benefit From Sam Conservation Efforts as Game Animals

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Whether it’s viewed on the banks of a big Alaskan river or soaring through the marshes beside a Florida lake, the bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) never fails to draw attention. Found only in North America, the iconic white head and 7-foot wingspan of an adult stand out among the many skyward creatures that make their home here. But even more than its stature or its fishing prowess, the bald eagle remains a symbol of the United States, and graces everything from coins and stamps to government seals and art – a living, feathered reminder of the grace and power that the nation was founded upon.

After being on the brink of extirpation in the mid-20th century following loss of habitat, damage to eggs from harmful chemicals and poaching, a 1965 study showed as few as 400 breeding pairs remained in the lower 48 states. Decades of careful conservation – including some financed through sportsmen dollars and utilizing conservation tactics previously perfected on game animals – included the relocation of breeding pairs, incubation of eggs and the release of eaglets as well as increased law enforcement protection from wildlife agencies. The results have seen bald eagle breeding pair numbers increase to 10,000 in the last 40 years. Because of this, the bald eagle was officially removed from the U.S. Endangered and Threatened Species List on June 28, 2007.

Today, bird watchers in places like Oklahoma are just as likely as a visitor to Yellowstone to spot a bald eagle flying or perched high in a tree. In fact, the bird, whose distinctive white head plumage develops around the fourth year, can be seen in the Sonora desert of the American southwest, the bayous of the gulf coast and many other areas. More than just a symbol of a nation, the bald eagle serves as a vital member of the food chain in any area it inhabits. Whether it dines on salmon in the northwest or mammals and rodents anywhere else, bald eagles survive largely on carrion, making sure that nothing goes to waste in the wild. Extremely adept at catching fish, eagles are likely to stay in one area all year if they have ready access to a sufficiently large body of water.

In 1995, the bald eagle was nationally upgraded from endangered to threatened in all of the lower 48 states. At that time, there were around 4,450 breeding pairs.  Today, bald eagle pairs in the continental U.S. number 9,789. Although these birds have been removed from the Threatened and Endangered Species List, they are still protected by both federal and state laws. These statutes include the Lacey Act, the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. All three of these acts generally state that the U.S. prohibits the pursuance, harming, harassing, purchasing, taking, killing, possession, transportation, and importation of migratory birds, their eggs, parts, and nests, unless allowed by permit. 

Every year, on the 4th Saturday of September, millions of Americans will celebrate the success of the bald eagle and many other species as part of National Hunting and Fishing Day activities that will be going on nationwide. National Hunting and Fishing Day began after a presidential proclamation in 1972 that sets aside the fourth Saturday of each September for the event. Since then, national, regional, state and local organizations have staged thousands of open house hunting- and fishing-related events everywhere from shooting ranges to suburban frog ponds, providing millions of Americans with a chance to experience, understand and appreciate traditional outdoor sports.

The careful bald eagle conservation efforts of the past have given millions of people the thrill of seeing the bald eagle soar high above the ground, to hear it call in the distance and continue to grace some of the United States’ most beautiful locales. Conservation groups, sportsmen and women and wildlife watchers alike are all stakeholders in the future of the bald eagle, to ensure that this majestic creature remains a symbol of America and not a distant memory.

National Hunting and Fishing Day, formalized by Congress in 1971, was created by the National Shooting Sports Foundation to celebrate the conservation successes of hunters and anglers. National Hunting and Fishing Day is observed on the fourth Saturday of every September.