With its proud stature, white head and tail feathers, strong talons and sharp eyes, the bald eagle is a sight to behold. America’s national emblem, bald eagle sightings in Michigan used to be a rarity, but today people are reporting more sightings of this majestic bird as its numbers continue to rise. It wasn’t always so. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources reports that the bald eagle population slowly declined in the early to mid-1900s, and then sharply declined during the 1950s to the point of near-extinction in most of the country. The increased use of pesticides in those years, particularly DDT, caused reduced or delayed breeding in eagles, and some pairs did not breed at all or produced eggs with fragile shells that broke in the nest. Chemicals washing into the waterways contaminated the fish that the birds consumed, resulting in the overall poor health of the species.
To address the plummeting eagle population, experts began to closely monitor them and take steps to reduce harmful chemicals affecting their breeding patterns. They were federally protected by the Bald Eagle Protection Act of 1940; however, a 1972 amendment increased penalties for violations of the Act. In addition, stronger protective measures within the Endangered Species Act of 1973 and the Michigan Endangered Species Act of 1974, along with the banning of DDT, helped the eagle population steadily increase. According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the bald eagle was removed from the federal list of threatened and endangered species in 2007, though it is still a protected species. Eagle numbers are still affected by human intervention, habitat destruction, electrocution by power lines, and accidental poisoning. Let’s hope that Michigan’s eagle population remains stable and continues to thrive!