Bald Eagle Resurgence Astounds

By Doug Leier, NDG&F Dept.

I drove by a bald eagle nest the other day, and then another and another. It wasn’t my intention as it was actually a route I drive on a pretty regular basis. I’ve known about all three of these nests for a number of years, and there is only about 40 miles in total distance between them.

Every time I think about it, I contemplated the dramatic change in the eagle population that has taken place over the course of a few decades. I was a North Dakota kid who marveled at just the sight of bald eagle feeding on a carcass in Logan County. Now as a biologist, I’ll spend time on the phone with others acknowledging the number of known active bald eagle nests across North Dakota. We’ll share mutual admiration for just how far they’ve come.

Digging through a little history, you’ll find an amazing story.

In 1940, Congress passed the Bald Eagle Protection Act because of fears that the nation’s symbol was threatened with extinction. While this ended legal killing of eagles, illegal killing and other factors continued to work against them.

Locally, when the bald eagle was listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1978, North Dakota had no known nesting pairs and hadn’t for quite some time. Protection under the ESA got the rebound underway and the bounce-back is almost astonishing.

By 1999 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed taking the eagle completely off the endangered species list. On June 28, 2007 that proposal was granted and bald eagles were removed from the list of threatened and endangered species.

Today, bald eagle numbers in the lower 48 states have climbed to more than 9,000 nesting pairs. In North Dakota, the number of nesting eagle pairs has risen from zero, to more than 200 documented in 2017.

It’s now been years since the North Dakota Game and Fish Department has asked for specific eagle sightings, and we have transitioned to documenting active eagle nests, which now exist in most counties.

When I’m out an about and see a bald eagle in flight, I still give pause and appreciate the opportunity. It’s much more frequent and not for as long, but I’ll always acknowledge these beautiful, powerful birds of prey.

Here’s a link to use to report sightings of active bald eagle nests in North Dakota

And while I’m at it, here are some other interesting biological notes about our nation’s symbol:

  • Egg hatching occurs from early to mid-April. Hatching occurs over several days, with the first hatchling being larger than the next because it will be 1-2 days older.
  • By early July, the young will be nearly the same size as the adults and will venture out onto the branches in the nest tree and take their first unsteady flights.
  • By the end of July or early August, the young are fully capable of flying and will leave (fledge) the nest. However, the fledglings may remain in the general area of the nest and be fed by adults for up to six weeks before they strike out on their own.​

Leier is a biologist with the North Dakota Game & Fish Department. Read more from him at

(Featured Photo: Bald eagles have come a long way in the last 50 years. In 1978, ND had no nesting pairs of the national bird within its borders. NDG&F Photo)

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