Bald Eagle: Flying High Again

It wasn't that long ago that the best bet to see a bald eagle was the back of a $1 bill.

But on the Mississippi River these days, they can seem as common as crows.

And, as CBS News Correspondent Jim Axelrod reports, they're huge – up to 3 feet tall.

Don Bardole is a ranger at a U.S. arsenal on the Mississippi River between Iowa and Illinois. It's a perfect place to watch the majesty and grace of the bald eagle.

Their nests can get as big as 12 feet across and 15 to 20 feet deep. Bardole says the largest one on record weighed as much as a Volkswagen Bug.

With DDT banned and their habitats protected, the bald eagles have gone from the brink of extinction, a generation ago, to merely "threatened," a decade ago. The government is now planning to remove it from the endangered species list altogether.

"In 1963, we estimated there were 417 breeding pairs in this country," says U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Director Steve Williams. "Now, there are over 7,000 breeding pairs."

The bald eagle might not have even mattered so much if Benjamin Franklin had gotten his way. He wanted the turkey to be the national symbol because he thought the eagle - a scavenger - was of questionable moral character.

"This sounds awful, but they will eat out of a garbage dump," says Bardole. "They will eat gut piles left in the woods by deer hunters."

But forget their eating habits. Seeing them soar high in the sky, it becomes clear why the founding fathers dumped the turkey.

"It's poetry in motion," says Bardole. "To imagine this kind of recovery is beyond any sense of logic. It's just been amazing."

Which really shouldn't be such a surprise. The American bald eagle has always amazed us. One glimpse and it's clear to anyone watching that this is not just any old bird on the Mississippi River.