Bald Eagle Fights Don't Mean Habitat Is Full, Experts Say

Amitabh Avasthi
for National Geographic News
May 3, 2006

Recent violent territorial disputes among bald eagles in the Chesapeake Bay could be nature's way of controlling the birds' increasing numbers, experts suggest.

But, they add, there is still enough habitat in the region for nesting, and despite media reports, the conflicts may not be a nationwide pattern.

"For every population there is a gradient of habitat," said Greg Butcher, director of bird conservation at the National Audubon Society.

"In other words, there is the best habitat and the good habitat, which is not as good as the best.

"So what we're seeing [with the eagles] is competition for prime location. It doesn't really mean all the habitat has been used up."

According to government estimates, about 7,000 nesting pairs of bald eagles now exist in the wild (see bald eagle photos).

Experts say the population will continue to rise and that the birds' habitat has yet to reach full capacity in many regions of the country.

"I think this conflict is something that is only found where the eagles are doing so well—as in the Chesapeake—that nest sites or territories are in short supply," said Laurie Goodrich of the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary Association in Kempton, Pennsylvania.

"I am not sure it warrants the drama of the headlines."

Bounce Back

The bald eagle was first listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act in 1967 but only in the lower 48 states—the species has never been endangered in Alaska.

Bald eagle numbers have been steadily rising since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency banned the insecticide DDT in 1972.

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