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For hundreds of years, bald eagle numbers in the U.S. plummeted due to habitat destruction and, in the 20th century, the introduction of poisonous pesticides. Now, conservationists are welcoming the sights of new nesting grounds, and people across the country are spotting more of the majestic birds flying overhead as the numbers finally recover.

Patti Barber, a Pennsylvania Game Commission biologist, said that she feels rewarded for the fight to bring back the endangered species. “It’s hard to step away from the fact that they are our nation’s symbol and knowing that they’ve now come back from the brink,” she said. “I think a lot of people have a lot of pride that we managed to do that.”

The bald eagle was adopted as the symbol for the newly-formed United States of America in 1782. At that point, the country may have been home to as many as 100,000 nesting eagles. The first major decline of their numbers was noted in the mid-1800s, in conjunction with the disappearance of prey such as waterfowl and shorebirds. The decline was likely linked to habitat destruction, as humans felled tall nesting trees and polluted rivers and lakes, which act as the eagles’ food sources.

After years of fighting to clean habitats and keep the birds alive, the birds finally dropped from the ranks of endangered species in the 1990s. Now, 69,000 bald eagles fly across the United States, up from as few as 487 nesting pairs in 1963.

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