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Bald Eagles Numbers Increasing

Once on the brink of extinction, bald eagles are increasing their numbers in Tennessee. Our country’s national symbol had all but disappeared 30 years ago but the species was taken off the federal list of endangered species in 2007, and now state biologists are considering removing them from the Tennessee list as well.

Bald eagles declined dramatically across the continent beginning in the mid-1950s because of reproductive failures related to the use of the pesticide DDT. In 1955, there were only 14 known active eagle nests in Tennessee, all at Reelfoot Lake in the northwestern corner of the state. By 1961 there were none. It took 22 years before bald eagles again nested in the state, when a pair took up residence at Reelfoot Lake in 1983. Since then their numbers have soared with 130 pairs documented in 2009.

A primary reason for the rebounding population was the banning of DDT, a move that has helped not only bald eagles but other raptors as well. In addition, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA), in cooperation with the Tennessee Ornithological Society (TOS), the American Eagle Foundation and many other companies and private individuals, has released 326 juvenile bald eagles since 1980 using a technique called hacking. Chicks that are approximately 8 weeks old are placed in enclosed artificial nests and are released when they are about 12 weeks old. The eagles will return to nest, typically within 75 miles of the hacking site, when they are about 5 years old and have obtained the full white head and tail feathers diagnostic of adult bald eagles. 

 TWRA, in cooperation with Tennessee Valley Authority, Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, TOS, and private landowners and dedicated volunteers has monitored eagle nests to track locations and nesting success. Scott Somershoe, TWRA state ornithologist, has been coordinating data collection with these partner agencies and individuals in order to track Tennessee’s eagles. Of the 130 pairs tracked in the state in 2009, about 70 percent produced offspring that fledged.

Although bald eagles are now doing well in Tennessee and are perhaps more abundant than ever, there are potential threats to their continued success. As their numbers grow, they are occupying more undeveloped private land along major reservoirs and lakes across the state. 

Many of these areas are being cleared for development, posing the biggest threat to bald eagles and other native wildlife. It is possible there may be a decline in nesting bald eagles as they are excluded from many of the best breeding areas in the state. 

For now new nest sites are still being discovered each year, with more than 15 previously undocumented bald eagle breeding locations reported by TWRA personnel and volunteers last year alone. If an individual sees an eagle in the state, especially if there is knowledge of an eagle nest, please contact TWRA at (615) 781-6653 or   The TWRA doesn’t track observations of individual birds, but a sighting of an adult eagle in spring may lead to a nest. With the public’s help, the TWRA will be able to continue tracking this incredible success story. For more information on bald eagles and other wildlife in Tennessee, see the new Tennessee’s Watchable Wildlife web page at


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