On March 7, 2024, the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority announced:

We’re thrilled to celebrate the arrival of Toronto’s first-ever recorded bald eagle nest—a historic moment for our local ecosystem! Just last year, eagles were removed from the list of at-risk species in Ontario, showcasing a remarkable comeback from the brink of extinction. Their presence in Toronto is not only a sign of the species’ recovery but also reflects a healthy environment and the impact of our ecological restoration work that has helped make conditions suitable for this pair to raise a family.

It’s not just Toronto—across North America, the resurgence of the bald eagle population is a testament to the effectiveness of concerted conservation efforts. 

From the Key West National Wildlife Refuge in the southeast to Alaska’s Selawik National Wildlife Refuge, where the Bering Land Bridge once connected North America to Asia, and from northern Mexico across Canada to small nesting populations along the Newfoundland coast, the bald eagle is once again truly an all-American bird.

© Eric Rock

Where to Spot Bald Eagles

To see bald eagles in the wild, you might not have to go very far! From the San Francisco Bay Area to Austin, Texas and even New York City, news outlets have posted recent stories of citizen sightings and increased bald eagle numbers:

San Francisco Bay Area: Between 1986 and 2017, the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory had only observed an average of 4.48 bald eagles per season in their official Fall Migration Count. From 2017-2022, they observed 15.8 per season. In 2022, GGRO counted 20 bald eagles soaring over Hawk Hill. Experts credit the 1972 ban on DDT and the Clean Water Act for more fish and better hunting visibility for birds, plus reservoirs were constructed and stocked.

Austin, Texas: Observers in Austin have reported an 85% increase in bald eagle sightings over the past decade. Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s eBird data corroborates this trend, reflecting a broader pattern of recovery that’s been observed nationwide. The eagles’ presence in Texas is particularly noteworthy given the state’s diverse landscape and the challenges of urban development.

Iowa: Following a challenging year due to avian influenza, Iowa’s bald eagle counts returned to normal in 2023, with over 2,900 eagles counted along the state’s waterways. The resilience of these birds, as highlighted by the eBird data, is a testament to their adaptability and the effectiveness of ongoing monitoring and conservation strategies.

Coeur d’Alene, Idaho: The 2023 annual eagle watch at Lake Coeur d’Alene celebrated a new record with 409 eagles spotted in a single day, including 363 adults and 46 juveniles. The annual event underscores the success of conservation efforts and the eagles’ adaptation to the region’s rich aquatic ecosystems, which aligns with WWF’s emphasis on protecting and restoring natural habitats for wildlife.

New York City: In January 2024, the NYC Parks Department shared that a bald eagle was spotted amid Pine Grove at Forest Park near Richmond Hill. Wildlife experts confirmed that in 2023 there were at least four bald eagles in the city—after there being none for about a century. It’s presumed they are feeding on small mammals.

Haines, Alaska: The best place to see bald eagles in the United States is, without question, the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve in Alaska. The area is home to about 500 residential eagles that attract visitors year-round, and migrating birds can raise the count to historic highs of 3,000. Eagles flock to the Chilkat River flats along the Haines Highway in early November for its unique hydrology. Percolating groundwater keeps late fall runs of chum and coho salmon spawning well into winter months, providing food for the birds.

© Candice Gaukel Andrews

Bald Eagle Basics

A bald eagle’s preferred food is fish, so keep your eyes peeled near water. Historically, the rich feeding grounds of coastal Alaska and British Columbia host high concentrations of bald eagles, which feed year-round on abundant salmon and other fish. In the Rocky Mountains and Yellowstone areas, bald eagles can be found along rivers and the shorelines of lakes.

You might see their nests first, as bald eagles build the largest nests of all North American birds. According to the WWF, bald eagles’ enormous nests are known as eyries. Piles of twigs and sticks lined with leaves ranging from 6 to 10 feet in diameter, their homes can weigh 2,000 pounds! The size means the nest, which has a shallow centeris safer for eggs and chicks. 

Eagles build eyries on high platforms, trees or cliffs to ensure they can see far-off dangers. They use them year after year and continue to build upon their foundations, so a nest that has been in use for many generations.

The largest bald eagle nest on record, in St. Petersburg, Florida, was 9.5 feet in diameter and 20 feet tall. Another famous nest—in Vermilion, Ohio—was shaped like a wine glass and weighed almost two metric tons. It was used for 34 years until the tree blew down.

Bald eagles are most widespread during winterand they can be found along coasts, rivers, lakes, and reservoirs in many states. They winter in large numbers at some lakes and national wildlife refuges.

 When fish are not available, bald eagles do not hesitate to eat carrion or hunt small mammals. They will also steal prey. In 1784, Benjamin Franklin disparaged the national bird’s thieving tendencies in writing:

“For my own part, I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly. … Besides he is a rank Coward: The little King Bird not bigger than a sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the District.

Rather than do their own fishing, bald eagles often go after other creatures’ catches. A bald eagle will harass a hunting Osprey until the smaller raptor drops its prey in midair, where the eagle swoops it up. A bald eagle may even snatch a fish directly out of an Osprey’s talons. Fishing mammals (even people sometimes) can also lose prey to bald eagle piracy.”


Are Bald Eagles Endangered?

When the United States adopted the bald eagle as the national symbol in 1782, anecdotal accounts stated that the country may have had as many as 100,000 nesting eagles. 

The first major decline of the species probably began in the mid to late 1800s, coinciding with the decline of waterfowl, shorebirds and other prey.

Although they primarily eat fish and carrion, bald eagles used to be considered marauders who preyed on chickens, lambs, and domestic livestock. Consequently, the large raptors were shot in an effort to eliminate a perceived threat. Coupled with the loss of nesting habitat, bald eagle populations declined.

In 1940, noting that the species was threatened with extinction, Congress passed the Bald Eagle Protection Act, which prohibited killing, selling or possessing the species. A 1962 amendment added the golden eagle and the law became the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

The bald eagle faced numerous threats from the late 19th to the mid-20th century, including hunting, habitat destruction, and the detrimental effects of the pesticide DDT. The latter, in particular, caused a drastic decline in their reproductive success, leading to a record low of only 417 breeding pairs in 1963.

By the mid-1900s, our national symbol was in danger of extinction throughout most of its range.

Bald Eagle: A Conservation Success Story

Habitat protection afforded by the Endangered Species Act, the federal government’s banning of DDT, and conservation actions taken by the American public have helped bald eagles make a remarkable recovery.

Since 2009, the population has seen a remarkable increase, with the number of bald eagles in the Lower 48 states soaring to over 316,700 individuals, including more than 71,400 nesting pairs. This significant growth was highlighted in a report by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, which conducted a comprehensive survey during the 2019 breeding season.

US Secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland, hailed the recovery as a “historic conservation success story,” emphasizing the collective resilience of the nation and the critical role of stewardship in preserving natural habitats.

That turnaround began with the ban on DDT and the implementation of the Endangered Species Act, which provided the necessary legal protection to facilitate the eagle’s recovery. By 2007, the bald eagle was removed from the list of endangered species, though it remains safeguarded under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

The success story of the bald eagle is not just about the numbers; it’s about the broader implications for biodiversity and ecosystem health. Eagles play a crucial role as apex predators, maintaining the balance within their ecological communities. Their recovery has also had a positive impact on ecotourism, with many Americans eager to witness these iconic, majestic birds in their natural habitats.

As we celebrate the resurgence of the bald eagle, it’s essential to continue supporting and investing in conservation initiatives.

The story of the bald eagle serves as a powerful reminder that with sustained effort and commitment, it is possible to reverse the fortunes of endangered species and safeguard our planet’s natural heritage for future generations. The bald eagle’s recovery is a beacon of successful wildlife management and an inspiring example of what can be achieved through dedicated conservation efforts.

For more bald eagle facts, check out our Yellowstone Wildlife Guide!