And the state with the most nesting bald eagles is

A pair of bald eagles in Tarpon Springs, Florida. Photo Credit: Len Blumin / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Florida has surpassed Minnesota as the state with the most active bald eagle nests in the lower 48. A 2011 survey counted more than 1,400 active eagle nests, a remarkable comeback since DDT decimated eagle populations just a few decades ago.

“Today in Central Florida alone we have more eagles and eagle nests in that area than in the entire 48 states in 1965,” said Charles Lee, director of advocacy at Audubon of Florida, to the Winter Park / Maitland Observer.

Florida’s first eagle survey in 1972-73 turned up fewer than 200 nests. Throughout the 60s and 70s high levels of the harmful pesticide DDT were flowing in the nation’s waterways. The chemical worked its way up the food chain, accumulating in eagles and other fish-eating birds of prey. DDT disrupts birds’ ability to produce strong egg shells, causing them to crack easily and subsequently kill the developing embryos.

The chemical was banned in 1972, and the following year Congress passed the Endangered Species Act. The bald eagle was added to the endangered species list in 1978 and has made a difficult but successful recovery in the following decades, largely due to intensive conservation efforts. The species was officially removed from the list in 2007.

Florida’s eagle conservation community gathered to celebrate the achievement on July 3 at Maitland’s Audubon Birds of Prey Center. Founded in 1979, the center cares for sick and injured birds of prey, including many bald eagles. They often receive over 600 patients each year.

Florida eagles nest from October 1 through May 15, often retuning to the same territory and nest site. Audubon Florida runs an EagleWatch program to monitor the state’s nests, and residents curious about eagles in their area can find local nests with an eagle nest locator provided by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

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