When Canada helped the neighbours with their bald eagle problem

By the early 1980s the bald eagle, the iconic national symbol of the U.S., had suffered severe enough population decline to land on the endangered species list.

“There just aren’t that many left in the United States,” George McLean announced on CBC’s The National.

As part of the plan to re-establish the bird’s populations, McLean told viewers in this July 14, 1983 newscast, Americans were looking to their northern neighbours in Manitoba for some help.

‘Operation eaglet’

For a group of wildlife experts,”Operation Eaglet” was “not a project, not a dream,” but a “dedication,” Karen Webb reported. 

Roger Hogan, the operation leader, blamed the use of the pesticide DDT in the post-Second World War period.

“We did the eagles severe damage,” he said, and “making some kind of progress in terms of re-establishing that bird” would make the team very happy.

A float plane arrives in northern Manitoba to capture juvenile bald eagles bound for the U.S. (The National/CBC Archives)

Webb was following the U.S. wildlife team near Bissett, about three hours by car northeast of Winnipeg, where the capture of some of the province’s eagles had required planning, a plane and patience. 

‘Currently we don’t have any’

They were there to collect eight baby eagles, from the northeastern Canadian shield, where there were an estimated 3,000 of the birds.

According to project leader Jack Swedberg, two were going to Pennsylvania and New Jersey, but six of them were destined to go to Massachusetts, where they would make “a tremendous difference,” because “currently we don’t have any.”

A juvenile bald eagle is captured and transferred to a carrier. (The National/CBC Archives)

Although climbing the tall jack pines was not easy, capturing and bagging one of the pair in the nest at the top was, since the seven-week-old eaglets could not yet fly.

“Bagged, and banded, and not very happy about it,” Webb reported, the captured juvenile was added to the rest of the catch, and flown to the eastern U.S., “courtesy of Canadian goodwill.”

A juvenile bald eagle, bound for the U.S. in 1983. (The National/CBC Archives)