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Bald Eagle Population Quadruples in a Decade

Wildlife Center of Virginia

Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland announced Wednesday morning bald eagle populations have quadrupled in the lower 48 states between 2009 and 2019.

For eagle lovers and conservationists, the numbers are heartening when you consider there were only 417 nesting pairs of bald eagles back in 1963. By banning a pesticide that was poisoning the birds and decades of conservation efforts, there are now nearly 72,000 breeding pairs.

Secretary Haaland gave a nod to the crowdsourcing efforts of everyday people.  "The bald eagle has always been considered a sacred species to American Indian people, similarly it’s sacred to our nation as America’s national symbol," Haaland said in a virtual announcement. "I want to emphasize how important citizen science data is and how grateful we are for all of those folks out there committed to our environment."

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Of the thousands of nesting pairs Virginia has 2,000. Bryan Watts heads William & Mary’s Center for Conservation Biology and the three member A-team that has been counting the raptures for 30 years.  "The Virginia population is somewhere between about 1,500 and 2,000 now," Watts estimates.

In 1977, Virginia only had 30 pairs of nesting eagles. The James River is an example of progress.  "The James was at zero in the mid-1970s and this year we’re at about 340 pairs. It’s been a dramatic recovery, spectacular. It’s hard to go anywhere in Tidewater Virginia and not see eagles overhead," Watts notes.

Watts and the A-team that conducts Virginia’s bald eagle survey is retiring at the end of this year. They include Captain Fuzzzo Shermer who is 80 and Mitchell Byrd who is 92.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

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