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Female bald eagle in flight A female bald eagle soars through the sky. © Tom Wilson

Stories in South Carolina

Bald Eagle Restoration

Bald eagles are an enduring symbol of the United States. Find out what it took to bring them back from the brink.

More than twenty years ago, nature reached a milestone many thought would never come: Bald eagles were removed from the federal endangered species list. While the eagle remained “threatened” until 2007, its reclassification on July 12, 1995, marked one of the greatest species comebacks on record—one that continues today.

Why Were Bald Eagles Endangered?

Hunting, habitat loss and thin, brittle eggshells caused by the pesticide DDT all conspired to decimate eagle populations in the mid-1900s. By 1963, fewer than 500 pairs were documented in the wild.

“DDT concentrates in animal fat,” says Maria Whitehead, the Conservancy’s Winyah Bay-Pee Dee River program director. “Small fish got eaten by bigger fish, which got eaten by even bigger fish. When an eagle swooped in and ate those largest fish, they got hit hard.”

This alarming population decline was reversed by not only banning harmful chemicals, but also prioritizing eagle habitat protection. In South Carolina, active eagle nests have grown from just 30 in the late 1970s to more than 220 today. 

Aerial view of twisting streams on Otter Island. This is an example of a coastal wetland area, which supports a large about of fish species and helps shelter coastal communities from storms- South Carolina has the largest amount of salt marsh area in the East Coast.
ACE Basin Aerial view of twisting streams on Otter Island. South Carolina has the largest area of salt marsh on the East Coast, and the ACE Basin provides important habitat for bald eagles. © Tom Blagden

Bald Eagle Recovery in South Carolina

Eagles live where they like to hunt, near slow-moving water filled with both fish and waterfowl. They also need lots of room! Both factors make South Carolina’s ACE (Ashepoo-Combahee-Edisto) Basin a hotspot for nesting eagle pairs.

“You’ve got huge development in Charleston and in Beaufort County, and then there’s a stretch between,” says David Bishop, the Conservancy’s ACE Basin project director. “The ACE Basin is that space between the people. Eagles need that.”

With your support, the Conservancy recently purchased 403 acres of prime maritime forest habitat on South Fenwick Island, ideal for hunting and nesting eagles. The purchase comprised 73 percent of the island and brings the total land you’ve helped protect in the ACE Basin to nearly 77,000 acres!

Get Conservancy ornithologist Maria Whitehead’s tips on how and where to spot bald eagles in South Carolina!