June 20th is American Eagle Day in the United States. This day is set aside to honor our national symbol and to raise awareness for protecting the Bald Eagle. The Bald Eagle was selected as the National Emblem of the United States on June 20, 1782 at the Second Continental Congress, and continues to serve as a symbol for freedom and courage. Prior to being the national emblem of our country, the Bald Eagle served as a character in many Native stories and was prominent in native art, including being frequently depicted on totem poles and clan houses.
The Bald Eagle has faced many challenges, including loss of habitat, hunting, and the harmful effects of DDT. The species, which numbered as few as 417 nesting pairs in the 1960s in the lower 48 states, now numbers over 10,000 nesting pairs thanks to conservation efforts. The Bald Eagle, although removed from the list of Endangered Species in 2007, continues to be protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, which authorizes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect eagle-nesting sites.
Alaska’s Bald Eagles have fared much better than their southern counterparts, with half of the world’s Bald Eagles, about 50,000, residing in the Last Frontier state. Alaskan bald eagles are almost always found near open water, with ocean coastlines being the most preferred habitat. Southeast Alaska has the highest density of Bald Eagles, with some areas having nests only about one mile apart. Concentrations of eagles can be found at several locations in the state at various times throughout the year, including the Copper River Delta, Berners Bay, Sitka Sound, Kenai Peninsula, the Stikine River, and the Chilkat River. The Golden Eagle, bigger and more aggressive than Bald Eagles, are more abundant in the interior of the state, with the largest nesting population residing in Denali National Park.