When I was born in 1963 there were fewer than 500 breeding pairs of Bald Eagles in the lower 48 states. Contrast that to the estimated 100,000 breeding pairs that existed when the bald eagle was made our national symbol in 1782. That dramatic decline helps explain why, when I was growing up, bald eagle sightings in Kansas were rare if not unheard of. All that has changed. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated there were nearly 10,000 nesting pairs of bald eagles in the lower 48 in 2006.
The image above was taken in Franklin County, Kansas this past January near the Mari des Cygnes River. At the time the image was taken there were roughly 30 adult and sub-adult bald eagles congregated along the same stretch of river. In 2013 I photographed more than 80 eagles gathered along the Kansas River near Kansas City. For a kid that grew up without ever seeing an eagle, outside of magazines and the Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, it is a dream come true.
Credit for the recovery can be attributed to several steps taken over the years including: (1) we made it illegal to shoot them, (2) we protected nest sites, (3) we cleaned up the water quality of our lakes and rivers, (4) we banned the pesticide DDT. There are other factors involved in the recovery, as well, but the bottom line is a successful recovery of an iconic bird species. The fact that the recovery was accomplished during my lifetime makes it extra special for me.