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Near-Extinct Bald Eagles Thriving In Their New Harford County Home

ABERDEEN, Md. (WJZ) -- The American bald eagle -- now back from the brink of extinction -- is literally flocking to an unlikely spot right here in Maryland.

Adam May reveals a new threat to this majestic bird and the critical role we play in protecting this symbol of freedom.

Alongside the U.S. military conducting tests at the Aberdeen Proving Ground, there's an unlikely partner. American bald eagles, which live across Maryland, are now flocking to this military base in Harford County.

Every year, government scientists study the majestic birds from the air, tracking a surprising change in the eagle population.

WJZ is the first TV station ever allowed to fly over the top-secret Proving Ground. Back in 1977, only one pair of bald eagles lived here.

The birds were on the verge of extinction after the pesticide DDT left eagles sterile and their eggs brittle. Now, decades after banning DDT, there's an environmental triumph.

May: "How have you seen the population at the Aberdeen Proving Ground change over the last 30 to 40 years?"
Wildlife Biologist John Paul: "It's really gone up exponentially."

In fact, biologists discovered Maryland has one of the largest eagle populations in the entire country. During our three-hour flight, we counted 154.

May: "What do the eagles like about the Proving Ground?"
Paul: "The undisturbed shoreline."

For a closer look, Environmental Protection Specialist Lynda Hartzell took WJZ to a nesting site near a firing range.

May: "So the explosions don't bother the eagles?"
Hartzell: "They don't faze them. It's like background noise to them now."

A fixed camera at the Proving Ground recorded rare and intimate details of the eagles' lives. Pairs that mate for life produced more than 80 chicks last year.

"We're almost a magnet for eagles in this area," Hartzell explained.

But this explosion in the eagle population leads to a new threat. Eagles need undisturbed shorelines and decades of development along the Chesapeake Bay have destroyed some of their habitat. When too many eagles are crammed into one place, it can lead to dangerous fights over territory.

"Along the western and eastern shorelines of Maryland, we have so much development that it's putting a lot of pressure on the eagles," Hartzell said. "The aggressiveness in their combat is a sign that they're reaching their carrying capacity."

Eagle populations are growing so dense at Aberdeen and other shorelines along the Chesapeake Bay that some eagles are now moving close to human development where they face another danger-- power lines. Last year, dozens of eagles in the mid-Atlantic broke their wings flying into wires at high speeds.

"There's a fracture right down at the joint that we can't surgically repair," one researcher said of an injured eagle.

"The challenge is to preserve their habitat," Hartzell said.

May: "They can't all live at Aberdeen."
Hartzell: "They can't all live at Aberdeen. There is definitely habitat out there, but we need to make sure we keep continuing to protect it."

Bald eagles finally made it off the threatened species list in 2007. Of course, most of us can't see the eagles at the Proving Ground. But there's another hot spot nearby. To find it, click here.

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