The Extinction Crisis
With its soaring flight and aggressive stare, you would think that eagles are at the top of the animal kingdom. And they are- except for humans. Over three hundred years, eagle populations have been in decline. In the 1700s, the eagle population was about 400,000. In the 1950s, there were only 412 nesting pairs.
So what happened? Humans did. Three major factors led to this brush with death: hunting, power line collisions, and DDT. The danger of the first two is clear- poaching and electrocution will hurt any animal population. But DDT impacted the eagles in a subtle yet significant way. DDT interfered with the eagles’ calcium metabolism, making their eggs thin-shelled and weak. These eggs couldn’t stand the weight of an adult, preventing the rearing of young and almost ending the species.
After eagles were placed on the endangered species list (to reduce poaching) and DDT was banned, populations bounced back. Over the past fifty years, the eagles’ status has been changed from “endangered" to “threatened" and finally was removed from the endangered species list in 1995.
The eagle is a symbol of many ideas. But due to its impressive return from near-extinction, the bird is now a symbol for the dangers of human encroachment on animal life. And, more optimistically, it is a symbol of nature’s ability to overcome the hardest obstacles. It is the phoenix of North America.