Bald Eagle Population on the Rise in The Last Green Valley: Opportunities and Challenges

Bald Eagle Population on the Rise in The Last Green Valley: Opportunities and Challenges

At The Last Green Valley (TLGV) we call January “Eagle Month,” and for good reason. It’s when bald eagles return in greater numbers to the National Heritage Corridor, and we lead outdoor adventures to see these amazing birds in the wild.

During the cold of winter, bald eagles residing in northern states venture south in search of open waters for hunting. This concentration of eagles provides an opportunity for wildlife biologists and volunteers to survey and monitor the status of bald eagle wintering populations, and for anyone interested in seeing a bald eagle in the wild to visit locations where they are known to congregate. Lakes, ponds and rivers are their preferred habitat and the source of fish, their preferred food. Bald eagles also typically build their nests near waterways. See below for information about TLGV bald eagle programs we will be leading this month.

Bald eagles are our national symbol and were chosen for this distinction in 1782 by the Second Continental Congress. It was not just their strength and majestic appearance, but also because among eagle species of the world, the bald eagle is unique to North America. The golden eagle, the other eagle species in our country, can be found worldwide. In the U.S., golden eagles range primarily in the western half of the country but can occasionally be seen in eastern states during their winter migrations.

Bald eagles were common in America 400 years ago. When Europeans arrived in North America, bald eagles nested on both coasts and along every major river and large lake in the interior from Florida to Baja California in the south and Labrador to Alaska in the north. Unfortunately, by the latter part of the 20th century they were rarely found in the lower 48 states. The dramatic decline in bald eagles was due to a combination of habitat loss, illegal shooting and pesticides. Following World War II, the widespread use of the pesticide DDT is considered the primary reason for the precipitous decline in bald eagle and other raptor populations. DDT had built up in the food chain, but it did not kill individual birds. Instead, it caused females to lay eggs with weak shells that fractured during incubation. Without a stable population of young eagles, their numbers declined to a point where they were declared an endangered species in the early 1970s.

With protection and the banning of DDT, the bald eagle has rebounded. In 1995 the species was upgraded from endangered to threatened, and in 2007 the recovery of the bald eagle prompted its removal from the Endangered Species List. In 2021 the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service reported an estimated 316,700 bald eagles in the lower 48 states during the 2019 breeding season.

Here in Connecticut, by the early 2000s the number of active bald eagle territories (with adult pairs) began to increase each year. In 2003 our state recorded eight territories and 10 chicks. It is likely those numbers were aided by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ reintroduction of 41 bald eagle fledglings to northern Worcester County between 1982 and 1988. Within 10 years the Connecticut bald eagle numbers had increased to 35 territories and 42 chicks, and by the 2020s the state had more than 80 territories with 60 successful nests, hatching more than 100 chicks each year.

The success is astounding, and TLGV is happy to help the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CT DEEP) monitor nests in The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor. In 2023 our volunteers surveyed 14 nests and, despite 3 nest failures, 15 bald eagle fledglings were documented. Given the vast region of the National Heritage Corridor, rich in water resources with abundant clean waters and excellent bald eagle habitat, we are certain there are nests we don’t know about. It seems every year one or more new nests are discovered and documented.

Despite this dramatic rebound of bald eagles in our region, our regal national symbol still faces man-made challenges that in too many cases result in death. Eagles are fishing birds with an amazing ability to catch fish “on the wing” with their excellent eyesight, flying ability and sharp talons. They not only hunt and catch their food but are also opportunistic hunters and will steal a catch from other fishing birds, such as the osprey, as well as scavenge carrion from roadkill and deer carcasses, including gut piles left by hunters. Unfortunately, an eagle’s food source can also kill them.

Sometimes when anglers can’t retrieve, or neglect to discard their fishing line, it can entangle birds hunting in our waterways. Eagles, osprey and owls may inadvertently become trapped in the monofilament and have been found tangled in fishing line and hanging by a leg or wing in a tree or nest. In addition to the challenge of monofilament, lead sinkers and tackle can be inadvertently ingested by an eagle causing lead poisoning. Eagles dining on a deer carcass or hunter’s gut pile may also ingest lead shot. A single piece of lead as tiny as a grain of rice can kill an eagle. We urge anglers and hunters to consider steel instead of lead tackle and shot.

One of our partners in The Last Green Valley, Horizon Wings Raptor Rehabilitation, does tremendous work rescuing injured eagles and other raptors, including those exhibiting signs of lead poisoning. Unfortunately, many eagles found to have lead poisoning don’t survive, but there are also happy success stories to share. In their fall newsletter Horizon Wings reported about their success rehabbing an injured bald eagle.

“On September 24, Environmental Conservation Officer Britni Scatena responded to a call about an eagle that had been hit by a car in Mansfield. She quickly transported the eagle to Horizon Wings, where the bird received emergency supportive care. X-rays showed that she had a possible fracture of her scapula and a fractured clavicle as well as a break in her beak. After six weeks of strict cage rest, the eagle was able to be moved out to one of our small aviaries, where she stayed for another week and a half before moving to our largest flight aviary. She gradually regained her strength and was flying well enough to be released on December 3.”

The full story can be found in Horizon Wings website and Fall 2023 Newsletter at:

Here at TLGV we are always glad to share information about bald eagles. This year’s Eagle Month programs include walks on Jan. 13 and 27 to (hopefully) see bald eagles near the Quinebaug Valley Trout Hatchery in Central Village, CT. On Jan. 20 we’ll be at Howard T. Brown Park in Norwich Harbor with our monthly Acorn Adventures program for families and children, looking for bald eagles. The folks from Horizon Wings will join us that day and will bring their education ambassador eagles who reside at their facility because of injuries leaving them unable to survive in the wild.

For more information check out the TLGV website at: and the TLGV Facebook page at:
Also, feel free to contact me with questions about these programs during Eagle Month here in The Last Green Valley.

We live in a beautiful place called The Last Green Valley, still 84 percent undeveloped land with forest, fields, farms and clean waterways. We share our region with many wild animals, including our national symbol, the majestic bald eagle. I hope you’ll join me and others, and together let us care for, enjoy and pass on this region we call home.

Information for this column was gleaned from the CT DEEP Wildlife Division fact sheet on bald eagles, Horizon Wings, and other sources.

Bill Reid is the Chief Ranger of The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor. He can be reached at or 860-774-3300.


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