Bald Eagles and Their Comeback! Brandon Bortzer

In 1963, scientists estimated a total of just 417 nesting pairs of bald eagles survived in the lower 48 states.

The emblem of the United States since 1782 and the only eagle endemic to North America, the American Bald Eagle, is one of the most majestic birds in the world. This glorious bird our forefathers chose to honor is worthy of our admiration and our protection.

Picture taken by author in Alaska.

The Comeback!

In 1963, scientists estimated a total of just 417 nesting pairs of bald eagles survived in the lower 48 states. This was a staggeringly low number, so in 1967 the bald eagle was listed as an endangered species through the Endangered Species Act. 1

After being placed on the Endangered Species List and with the help from the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, the American Bald Eagle was able to make its comeback. the help from the acts and many small projects and organizations, the bald eagles population increased enough to be taken off the Endangered Species List.

In 2006, there were an estimated 9,789 nesting pairs in the lower 48 states with the majority of the nests found in the Midwest. Since then, the population continued to climb, however the hunting and killing of these birds continues to be illegal due to the legislation.

Today, the main cause of bald eagle deaths is from power lines along bodies of water. However, many communities are voting to widen their power lines or place yellow curly-q wires on the power lines so the eagles can differentiate the lines from the background horizon.

Hey eagle! Don’t you know this is dangerous? This picture was NOT taken at High Trails…thank goodness.


Quick Bald Eagle Facts

Like other raptor species, female bald eagles are bigger than males, and can have a wingspan of up to 8 feet long! That’s the same height as our Instructors on each other’s shoulders!  Females can weigh up to around 14 pounds, with 6 percent of their weight coming from their skeletons, and the rest coming from their feathers! That’s a lot of feathers! 2

8 Feet Wide. Two instructors.

When searching for these beautiful birds, you might have better luck looking for their nests. Bald Eagles mate for life and a part of their mating ritual is building a nest together. After building on the same nest for sometimes 35 years, some nests can reach a weight of almost 3 tons! That’s enough weight to break down the tree! 3

Bald Eagles live near many types of bodies of water, including Big Bear Lake, just down the road from High Trails. One might even be lucky enough to find a perched bald eagle close to High Trails at Jenks Lake! However, if you were to travel back in time just 30 years, you likely wouldn’t find bald eagles in this area, or in the continental United States. With the overuse of DDT, a pesticide for insect control, and an extensive amount of deforestation, the bald eagle came very close to extinction in the Continental United States. 4

Picture actually taken at Jenks Lake…

Help The Bald Eagle!

There are still many organizations working to protect the bald eagle. Monetary donations can be given to organizations like the Defenders of Wildlife 5 or American Eagle Foundation 6.  You can also donate your time and volunteer with projects and organizations working to protect the bald eagle.

Photos from

In the San Bernardino National Forest, volunteers count Bald Eagle populations in the Big Bear Lake area on the first Saturday of every Winter month. The High Trails staff has been helping Robin Eliason, a district wildlife biologist for the Forest Service, with this project over the past several months. You can find similar projects in your area trying to keep the American Bald Eagle safe and off the Endangered Species List.

At High Trails Outdoor Science School, we literally force our instructors to write about elementary outdoor education, teaching outside, learning outside, our dirty classroom (the forest…gosh), environmental science, outdoor science, and all other tree hugging student and kid loving things that keep us engaged, passionate, driven, loving our job, digging our life, and spreading the word to anyone whose attention we can hold for long enough to actually make it through reading this entire sentence. Whew….



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