The bald eagle, America’s national bird, has been removed from Vermont’s endangered species list after more than a decade of restoration efforts, the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department announced Thursday.
The pesticide DDT and illegal hunting contributed to the raptor’s population decline in the mid-20th century. In 1967, the bald eagle appeared on the first-of-its-kind federal endangered species list.
“They’re kind of these icons of the first endangered species that were listed in the federal Endangered Species Act,” said Margaret Fowle, a conservation biologist for Vermont Audubon.
“When DDT was rampant in use in the mid-1900s, populations of birds at the top of the food chain declined dramatically,” she said. “It’s really important that these birds were able to tell us that story.”
In the past 15 years, the bald eagle population in Vermont has grown exponentially.
“In the state of Vermont, we had our first breeding pair in 2008,” said Doug Morin, a wildlife biologist for the state who focuses on nongame birds. “As of 2020, we had 64 chicks fledged out of 37 breeding pairs.”
As a result of the birds’ population growth, the Vermont Institute of Natural Sciences in Quechee, which provides wild bird rehabilitation, has seen an influx of bald eagles.
“Twenty years ago it was a rarity,” said Grae O’Toole, director of the center for wild bird rehabilitation. The center has taken care of eight bald eagles just in the past couple of years, O’Toole said.
Bald eagles prefer hunting along water bodies, according to O’Toole. Popular spots in Vermont include along the Connecticut River, around Lake Memphremagog and in the Champlain Valley.
For the ornithologically inclined, spotting the pale head of a bald eagle inspires unique enthusiasm.
“They’re huge! How cool is that? They’re a super compelling bird. They capture people’s attention,” Morin said.
All of which makes the bald eagle’s de-listing a milestone for Vermont, according to Wildlife Division Director Mark Scott.
The Cornell Lab reports eagles run about 3 feet in length with a 7-foot wingspan, dwarfing other types of raptors, such as hawks and vultures. They can live long lives. The oldest recorded bald eagle in the wild was at least 38 years old when it was fatally struck by a car in New York in 2015. It had been banded in the same state in 1977, according to the lab.
Although Thursday’s news marked a celebratory moment for bald eagle restoration, other animals received worrying new designations. Fish & Wildlife listed the American bumblebee and a species of freshwater mussel called the brook floater as endangered, and added the Eastern meadowlark to the threatened list, which means that it’s at risk of becoming endangered without timely conservation action.
Still, conservationists’ success with the bald eagle — and other previously endangered species such as the common loon, osprey and peregrine falcon in Vermont — shows that positive change is possible.
“When we do invest in species, and we spend time and effort and legislation where necessary to try to preserve them, we find success. And so that’s a resounding positive note,” Morin said.
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