Photo Ark: Bald Eagle

Photo Ark: Bald Eagle

From Peril to Progress: Bald Eagles Soar Past Challenges to Make a Strong Comeback


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Biology, Conservation, Geography

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The powerful bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) has been on the Great Seal of the United States and the national bird since 1782. The bald eagle is a bird of prey, or raptor, and it is one of the largest birds in North America. As adults, the birds are brown with a white head and tail. The bald eagle’s scientific name (above) means “white-headed sea-eagle.”

Bald eagles live near lakes and coastlines across North America. While they live year round in places like Alaska and the coasts, they are also seen across the United States during their winter migration. Bald eagles hunt mostly fish but also eat other birds and small mammals, like squirrels and rabbits. They do not always hunt to feed. Sometimes, bald eagles scavenge the carcasses of already dead animals. They have also been known to steal food from other birds.

Once abundant in North America, in the mid-1900s bald eagles almost vanished. People reduced their numbers through habitat destruction, hunting, and chemical pollutants. The pesticide DDT (dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane) was used to repel mosquitoes, which carry deadly, infectious diseases. The DDT contaminated the eagle’s food source, fish, which weakened the strength of their eggshells. This caused many of the shells to be crushed under the weight of nesting adults or too weak to hatch.

In the late 1970s, DDT was banned, and bald eagles were listed as endangered in most states. Over time, recovery efforts have helped the bald eagle population rebound and continue to grow. Today, the species is seen as a true conservation success story but needs continued protection to keep thriving.

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Media Credits

The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.

Corinne Rucker, National Geographic Society
Sara Nachtigal, Ph.D., Educurious
Hanna Jaramillo, M.S. Ed., Educurious
Latia White, Ed.D., Inclusive Innovation Researcher, Global Inclusive Learning Design Reviewer
Rights Clearance
Jean Cantu, National Geographic Society
Production Managers
Margot Willis, National Geographic Society
Patrick Cavanagh, National Geographic Society
Clint Parks
Last Updated

March 5, 2024

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