The history of the Bald Eagle in North America is a mixed one, at best. Despite being revered as the national bird and regarded as a symbol of America's power, this beautiful predator was driven to the brink of extinction.
In New York State, a number of factors led to the near disappearance of the eagle. Hunting, habitat loss, and the deadly insecticide DDT brought the state's population to one single eagle in 1975!
Three decades later, the eagle is enjoying a strong revival. The NY Department of Environmental Conservation reports near record numbers throughout the state, including in Western New York.
Kenneth Roblee is a Senior Wildlife Biologist with the DEC. He says, "This year, we in this region came up with a total of 51, this is a record total for our mid-winter count, and we may also end up with a record total count for the state." Loretta Jones, Founder of Hawk Creek Wildlife Center, adds, "We actually led the country in the re-introduction of Bald Eagles in the Lower 48 states, which is amazing, because we were down to one Bald Eagle...one."
As an apex predator, the eagle helps maintain an important balance of mammals and birds within natural communities, and may serve as a bellwether to human society as well. Roblee tells us, "We can end up with nuisance problems, with some species becoming too numerous, it can result in over-browsing of certain plant communities, so we need top predators, and the Bald Eagle is an important one."
Jones agrees, "The Bald Eagles are on the top of the food chain, and one of the most important things they do, is they're great barometers, they're great markers of the environment, and they let us know what we are doing to poison ourselves and our children, and that's really important!"
Even though news for the Bald Eagle is good for now, the species is not out of the woods yet. Threats such as disease, pollution, and even wind turbines pose a danger to this powerful yet fragile bird, and vigilance needs to be kept to guarantee the Bald Eagle continues to fly free.
"The test of our mettle will be if we can keep them here at these numbers," says Roblee. "We do need to be vigilant, not just for the Bald Eagle, but for many other species that require seclusion and specific habitat set asides."