PORTLAND (AP) – With Maine’s bald eagle populations in the midst of a decades-long recovery, experts say the Patriot’s Day storm that destroyed at least a dozen nests along the coast is shaping up as just a brief setback.

Losses from the storm include a nest next to Damariscotta Lake that had been home to eagles for about 50 years. In some cases, trees and nests survived the destruction but many of the eggs or chicks in them were lost.

Eagles that lost nests are expected to start building new ones in the same areas, according to biologists, but many eagle pairs won’t be raising young this year.

Eagle populations in Maine and elsewhere have been rebounding from near-extinction. Maine had 414 breeding pairs last year, up from about 35 in the early 1970s.

“We thought we were going to lose the whole population,” said Ray “Bucky” Owen, a retired wildlife biology professor and former director of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. “They’re now in every county in the state and continue to expand. It’s a super success story.”

Next month, the eagle is expected to be removed from the federal endangered species list and state officials hope to take the bird off Maine’s protected list soon after that.

DDT and other pesticides, which caused eggshells to crack and reproduction to fail, had decimated the nation’s eagle population. By 1963, there were only 417 nesting pairs counted in the lower 48 states.

Eagles were placed on the federal endangered list in 1967 and DDT was banned five years later.

Eagle recovery efforts in Maine began in the 1960s. Owen and other biologists got a zoo to supply eggs from captive eagles and put them into nests so wild birds would incubate them. They also brought in fledgling eagles, which were successfully adopted and raised by the Maine birds.

They put out uncontaminated food to keep the existing birds nourished and transplanted feathers from a dead eagle to rebuild the wing of one eagle that had been shot.

“There was nothing we could do to increase reproduction, but we could decrease mortality,” he said. “Even losing a bird or two was significant back then.”

By the late 1980s, as the impact of pesticide regulations took hold, eagles started reproducing at a healther rate.

At last count, the number of breeding pairs nationwide had climbed to 9,789.

“We have been experiencing about an 8 percent annual increase for 20 years now,” said Charlie Todd, biologist with Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

The bald eagle was upgraded from endangered to threatened in 1995. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed in 1999 that the bird be removed from the list, with a decision expected by June 29.

Eagles still will be protected under a 1940 federal law intended to stop people from killing or injuring the national symbol.

Information from: Portland Press Herald, http://www.pressherald.com

AP-ES-05-28-07 1036EDT

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.