​​​2 Minutes in the Yellowstone Ecosystem
Episode 13: Bald Eagles
6 July 2018
What better subject for the week of America's Independence Day than the conservation success story of the bald eagle? Our national bird came close to extinction, but concerted efforts have them back, strong and proud.
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JENNY>> Welcome to Two Minutes in the Yellowstone Ecosystem, sponsored by the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary. Now here’s your host, Gary Robson:
LES>> We're flying high today, is that what we're doing?

[Bald eagle screeches]

GARY>> We are! I figured since this is the day after Independence Day, we should talk about the American Bald Eagle.

LES>> I can say that I'm truly an eagle. As a Boy Scout. I am an Eagle Scout.

GARY>> Okay!

LES>> I thought I'd have a tie-in here someplace, anyway.

GARY>> I think the greatest thing about the bald eagle is the successful conservation story behind it.

LES>> Because they were almost extinct.

GARY>> Just about. Before 1800, down here in the lower 48 states, they estimated there were about a quarter million bald eagles. They were considered vermin, along with the other raptors. People shot them on sight; populations dropped steadily. Even with the migratory bird treaty in 1918, people just continued to shoot them in large part because eagles fill an interesting ecological niche here.

[Les laughing]

GARY>> You know the vultures we talked about a couple weeks ago? They migrate. So half the year, they're not up here taking care of dead animals and cleaning up our countryside, so the bald eagle does it.

LES>> And they thought that was a bad thing?

GARY>> Well, people would see a dead lamb, and there's an eagle sitting on it, eating it, and they would think, that eagle killed that lamb! Well, it didn't. It's not one of the things that they kill — at least very, very rarely.

LES>> Bunnies, yes. Lambies, no.

GARY>> Yeah, watch out: your bunny rabbit is not safe if there's an eagle in the neighborhood. That's very true.

Then the Bald Eagle Protection Act passed in 1940. That was to try to bring them back, but that's also when there was a pesticide called DDT that came out, and DDT was responsible for almost wiping out a number of birds, due to affecting the way their body processed calcium. It made them lay eggs with shells so thin the egg would break in the nest as soon as it hit. 

LES>> Okay.

GARY>> It wasn't until 1963 when the Audubon Society Survey said there are 417 active nests. That's it. That's all in the lower 48 states. That's when things really began happening. Dennis Flath from Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks started bald eagle surveys in 1980. He said there were 25 breeding pairs in Montana that they could find.

LES>> Oh, man!

GARY>> When he retired in 2001, there were over 300.

LES>> You know, you can go down the road around here and you'll see, like, three or four anyway.

GARY>> You'll see them all over the place here. The population is estimated back over 100,000 of them in the U.S. All 48 contiguous states have breeding pairs and 23 of those states have over 100 active nests in them! They were delisted from the Federal Endangered/Threatened Wildlife List and the IUCN now classifies them as a "least concern" species on the Red List, so it's been an amazing success story.

LES>> They're back at it, that's for sure!

[Bald eagle screeches]

LES>> Like I said, you can see them all over now, from just a few years ago.

GARY>> And we do need to remember: they are still protected in a number of ways. You not only can't go capture or kill an eagle, you can't harrass an eagle, you can't own eagle feathers unless you have — there are special education permits. We have a migratory bird permit at the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary that allows us to own a variety of birds and we can own the feathers for educational purposes. There are tribal permits as well for those. So it's really been a wonderful success story watching the eagles come back from — when I was a kid, we were worried we would not have our national bird.

LES>> Back to high-flying eagles once again.

GARY>> Back to high-flying eagles again!

[Bald eagle screeches]

LES>> All righty, Gary, always interesting. Thank you for today, and of course we'll get back to our regular schedule on Wednesdays, won't we?

GARY>> Yep! Next week, Wednesday at 8:22 a.m.

JENNY>> Thanks for joining us for Two Minutes in the Yellowstone Ecosystem, sponsored by the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary in Red Lodge, Montana. This podcast updates every Friday on iTunes , YellowstoneEcosystem.com , and the Sanctuary’s website, YellowstoneWildlifeSanctuary.org.

Thanks to our recording partners at FM99: the Mountain , where you can hear this show live every Wednesday at 8:22 a.m.

I’m your announcer, Jenny Van Ooyen, and I hope you’ll join me next week for another episode of Two Minutes in the Yellowstone Ecosystem!
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