Species Assessment for Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus Leucocephalus) in Wyoming
Gary P Beauvais
Tags: WLCI Agency Report
The bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) is the second largest North American bird of prey, with an average wingspan of 7 feet. On 20 June 1782 it was chosen as the emblem of the United States of America because of its long life, great strength, and majestic appearance. This selection had its detractors, most notably Benjamin Franklin who expounded on the bald eagle’s “bad moral character.”
The bald eagle's scientific name signifies a sea (halo) eagle (aeetos) with a white (leukos) head (cephalus). In adult birds, the distinctive white head and white tail contrast starkly with the dark brown body and wings.
When Europeans first arrived on the North American continent there were an estimated one- quarter to one-half million bald eagles. Eagle populations declined as North America was settled.
Bald eagles were affected by deliberate killing for feathers and trophies, loss of prey, loss of habitat, intentional poisoning, and unintentional poisoning, especially via widespread use of the pesticide dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane (DDT). The continental population reached a low in 1963 with only 417 nesting pairs in the lower 48 states. In 1978, the bald eagle was federally listed as Endangered through the lower 48 states except in Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Washington, and Oregon, where it was designated as Threatened.
Under the protection of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and the banning of the use of DDT, the bald eagle population has nearly doubled every 7 to 8 years over the past 30 years. The magnitude of the recovery has prompted the USFWS to propose removal of the bald eagle from the Endangered Species list (USFWS 1999).