East Texas Quarterly Magazine Summer 2015 - Page 6

believed to live up to 20 years or more in the wild. The Bald Eagle, our National Symbol, occurs throughout the United States, Canada, and northern Mexico. Bald Eagles are present year-round throughout Texas as spring and fall migrants, breeders, or winter residents. The Bald Eagle population in Texas is divided into two populations- breeding birds and nonbreeding or wintering birds. Breeding populations occur primarily in the eastern half of the state and along coastal counties from Rockport to Houston. Nonbreeding or wintering populations are located primarily in the Panhandle, Central, and East Texas, and in other areas of suitable habitat throughout the state. Habitat loss and pesticide intake over the past 200 years are the factors most consistently associated with declines in Bald Eagle populations with the ultimate threat to Bald Eagles being people. Human populations are expanding in Texas. People are attracted to water which is the primary areas for eagle nesting and foraging. People also consume huge volumes of fresh water which reduces the amount of water available in river and wetland systems. Some eagles are showing more acclimation to the presence of people, but most are found in more rural settings with minimal human disturbances. Shooting has long been recognized as a major human-caused factor in the decline of Bald Eagles. Although primarily fish and carrion eaters, eagles were thought to be a major threat to chickens, livestock, and game animals. Consequently, many were killed by farmers, ranchers, and hunters. In 1940, Congress passed the Bald Eagle Protection Act, which made it illegal to shoot or harass eagles. In 1969, Bald Eagles gained further legal protection under federal endangered species laws. With heightened public awareness and sensitivity to the plight of the Bald Eagle, coupled with strict laws, shooting mortality has declined from 62% of total reported deaths from 1961-1965 to 18% from 1975-1981. Although this 4 East Texas Quarterly Magazine