Nation's Symbol Is Flying High Again

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The United States' national bird, the American bald eagle, is about to be removed from the endangered and threatened species list. Apparently pleased by the more than 5,000 nesting pairs currently flying over the nation (more than 10 times the number 30 years ago, when the birds appeared to be on a path to extinction), the Interior Department plans to formally delist the eagle, quite possibly on the Fourth of July.

"Some animals, like the bald eagle, are clawing themselves back," says TIME senior science writer Jeffrey Kluger about the creatures listed under the Endangered Species Act. During much of the century the majestic birds were often killed by ranchers and farmers trying to protect their livestock. The eagles also took a severe hit from the now-banned pesticide DDT. Still, says TIME senior science reporter David Bjerklie, "one can only hope that itís an evaluation based on the real risk to the eagle." There are many other species still on the list with more than 5,000 pairs, he points out. One factor working in favor of delisting the bald eagle is that its habitat in North America is broad, which gives the birds a greater chance of survival. Another important factor, says Bjerklie, "is the fact that itís still not going to be open season on the eagles." Federal laws remain on the books that make it illegal to hunt the nation's symbol.