The Desert Nesting Bald Eagle

The bald eagle of the Mojave Desert is better known as the desert nesting bald eagle or the Sonoran Desert bald eagle and is different to other American bald eagles in a number of different ways. It is a bird that is geographically different, behaviourally different and biologically different, yet in 2007 the US Fish and Wildlife Service delisted the desert nesting bald eagle as an endangered species, refusing to recognize it as a separate bird from other American bald eagles. This was in spite of the fact that the population had declined to only a few dozen breeding pairs remaining.

A lawsuit was filed to have the decision to delist the desert nesters overturned and in 2008 a federal judge ruled in favour of the case ruling that the 2006 decision by the agency was a violation of the Endangered Species Act. But in another strike against the desert nesting bald eagle the FWS again denied the eagle the protection it requires in February 2010 with the decision upheld in the courts.

In the finding the FWS refused the petition that the desert nesting bald eagle be recognized as a distinct population segment (DPS) which would mean that it could be classified separately from other bald eagles. In refusing to accept it as a DPS it is not able to be listed as a threatened species. The FWS stated “We conclude that the best information available does not indicate that persistence in the ecosystem of the Sonoran Desert Area is important to the species as a whole.” This is a finding that no recognized bald eagle expert has agreed with.

The desert bald eagle has adapted to living in the heat of the desert and has evolved into a non-migratory resident of the Southwest with just about the entire population residing in Arizona. They live their lives within a limited area and they do not interbreed with any of the other types of bald eagles that only spend the winter in the area.

The problem with removing them from the Threatened Species list is that they have lost habitat protection meaning that anyone who wants to use the land where they nest will have the right to move in and potentially destroy it.

You can read the FWS findings in denying the protection petition here.

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