BLOOMINGTON — Bald eagles have been removed from Indiana's list of species deemed endangered or of special concern thanks to the bird's successful comeback in the state following reintroduction efforts in the 1980s.
The majestic raptors had all but vanished in Indiana by the late 20th century due to habitat loss, pesticide use and other factors, with the last bald eagle nest recorded in the state in 1897.
But Indiana is now home to such a large bald eagle population the state Natural Resources Commission recently removed the birds' designation as a state species of special concern, The Bloomington Herald-Times reported.
That move comes after bald eagles were upgraded from a state-endangered species to the special concern category in 2008 after Indiana reached a goal of 50 nesting pairs.
State wildlife biologists estimate that in 2020 there were about 300 bald eagle nesting pairs across 84 Hoosier counties. And during the last five years, at least one bald eagle nest has been documented in 88 of Indiana's 92 counties, usually near rivers, streams and large bodies of water.
The precise number of nests isn't known because physical surveys were discontinued in 2010, when 120 bald eagle nesting territories were reported around the state, said Allisyn-Marie Gillet, the state bird biologist with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.
"The bald eagle populations are growing. We don't do a comprehensive survey anymore," Gillet told The Herald-Times, adding that surrounding states have also seen the species rebound.
Bald eagles were removed from the federal government's endangered species list in 2007.
But the birds remain protected by state and federal laws. The DNR said anyone who sees a bald eagle in Indiana should observe the birds, their nests and roosts from a distance of at least 330 feet (100.6 meters) to avoid disturbing them.
Bald eagles were reintroduced to Indiana by the department between 1985 and 1989, when 73 eaglets from Alaska and Wisconsin were raised at southern Indiana's Monroe Lake, just southeast of Bloomington, and released when they were old enough to fend for themselves.
That effort returned a breeding population to Indiana. In 1991, the state recorded its first successful bald eagle nesting, signaling that the native species was on a rebound.
The bald eagle reintroduction program was Indiana's first endangered species restoration project. Those efforts are primarily founded by donations to the Indiana Nongame Wildlife Fund.