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It’s a Bucks County Thing: Go Birds. . .and Butterflies!


It’s a Bucks County Thing: Go Birds. . .and Butterflies!

Win or lose, the people of Bucks County love their Eagles. As the team comes back to the roost after the exciting but heartbreaking Super Bowl loss in Arizona, we will continue to celebrate their record-breaking season. However, our beloved “Birds” aren’t the only eagles soaring high in Pennsylvania. Thanks to public support for their namesake, the majestic American Bald Eagle, and key protections provided by the Endangered Species Act, the number of bald eagle nests in Pennsylvania has increased from only three in 1983 to over 300 today.

In the mid-1900s, the bald eagle population was critically low due to several factors, including habitat loss, illegal shootings, and the use of the insecticide DDT. However, in 1978, the US Fish and Wildlife Service listed bald eagles on the Endangered Species Act. Prior to this important designation, bald eagles had received some protection under both the Migratory Bird of 1918 and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act of 1940. However, it was the Endangered Species Act that provided additional protections for the eagle’s habitat, making a world of difference.

The numbers don’t lie! Prior to being listed as endangered on the Endangered Species Act, bird watchers at the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Kempton, Pennsylvania recorded only 19 bald eagles during the 1977 fall migration season. Amazingly, during this year’s fall migration, they recorded 591 bald eagles! Conservationists at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary have been recording the migration of raptors since the early 1900s, making key links between the decline of a raptor population and the loss of habitat. The US Fish and Wildlife Service considers bald eagles to be an “Endangered Species Act success story” because new habitat protections and the banning of DDT allowed the bald eagle population to soar. Since their recovery has been so robust, the bald eagle no longer needs to be listed on the Endangered Species Act. This spectacular recovery story can give us hope for additional species that are struggling for survival.

Currently, migratory monarch butterflies are another winged species that need the additional protections provided by the Endangered Species Act. These amazing insects migrate around 2500 miles (4000 km) each year with their seemingly delicate wings. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature has listed monarchs on their “red list” of endangered species because their western population has decreased by over 99% since the 1980s, while the eastern population has declined by 84% since 1996. Despite the staggering rate of decline, the US Fish and Wildlife Service has yet to list them as endangered. Like bald eagles, monarch butterflies are being harmed by the use of pesticides and habitat loss. And now climate change is exacerbating their struggles. Not only are monarch butterflies beautiful to watch as they glide through the sky, they are also important pollinators, adding to the reproductive capabilities of crops and other important plant species. The additional protections from the Endangered Species Act are what the monarch needs to help its population recover.

Renowned biologist and conservationist Jane Goodall has shared that “It is inevitable that more and more species will need a helping hand if they are to continue to share the planet with us.” As we celebrate the Philadelphia Eagles’ spectacular season and the recovery of their namesake, the American Bald Eagle, we can also commit to providing similar protections for other amazing species like the migratory monarch butterfly. Fly, eagles and monarchs, fly!

Sarah Sherwin resides in Newtown, Bucks County and has taught AP Environmental Science and Biology at Hopewell Valley Central High School in Pennington, NJ for the past 19 years. She is also a current biology graduate student, earning her Masters through Miami University’s Project Dragonfly.

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