The Bald Eagle once ranged throughout every state in the Union except Hawaii. When America adopted the bird as the national symbol in 1782, as many as 100,000 nesting Bald Eagles lived in the continental United States, excluding Alaska. By 1963 only 417 nesting pairs were found in the lower 48 States. In the late 1800's the Bald Eagle was a common breeding bird along the States, but wintering population varied, as they do today, depending on the severity of the winter and availability of food.
In the 19th century, it gradually became obvious that the nesting populations were being seriously reduced across the country. Land developed destroyed habitat as settlers moved into the wild, remote realm of the Bald Eagle, and the suitability of both breeding and wintering areas were seriously degraded. Mortality from trapping and shooting (especially as firearms became more numerous and efficient) accelerated the decline of the bird.
In the 20th century a new, more serious threat appeared. Decimation of the Bald Eagle populations by pesticides and other environmental contaminants were far more insidious than anything biologists had yet witnessed.
In the mid 1960's the decline in breeding Bald Eagles exceeded 50% in some areas and approached 100% in extreme cases. In addition, nesting failures of 55% to 96% were found for the remaining nesting pairs.
Protection for the Bald Eagle came very slowly. Not until 1940, when the Bald Eagle act was signed, which was the killing of Bald Eagles in the lower 48 States was prohibited. In Alaska, a bounty was in effect from 1917 to 1945 and again from 1949 to 1953. More then 100,000 Eagles were killed, each pair of feet bringing from 50 cents to 52cents. Finally, in 1953 the Territorial Bald Eagle Bounty Law was replaced in Alaska, making...