APPLE RIVER, Ill. — In this very important month for the bald eagle, Terrence Ingram is trying to upend conventional wisdom about our majestic national symbol.
He lacks the academic bona fides of an ornithologist but has spent nearly 60 years researching and advocating for bald eagles; he is even credited with saving more than 6,000 acres of eagle habitat along the Mississippi River. In 1995, Ingram established the Eagle Nature Foundation as the successor to a similar organization he’d started nearly three decades earlier.
His point is simple: The bald eagle population is declining.
It is an astonishing conclusion that flies in the face – so to speak – of the narrative that presents the bald eagle as a great American comeback story. And Ingram’s theory is particularly noteworthy this month, when federal agencies and about 100 volunteers affiliated with his foundation conduct separate, crucial midwinter bald eagle counts.
“I know, I’m out in left field, huh?” Ingram, 78, said recently from the headquarters of the Eagle Nature Foundation, in a creaky, nearly 150-year-old house that doubles as his insurance office in this tiny town 140 miles northwest of Chicago. “That’s OK. I’ve known that for years.”
Nearly extinct in the early 1960s from the widespread use of the pesticide DDT, habitat destruction and illegal shooting, the bald eagle population reportedly has become so robust since the 1980s that it’s starting to threaten other species, including some rare birds.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s best estimate places the bald eagle population at nearly 143,000, a significant jump from 30 years ago, when the service estimated that only 2,475 breeding pairs existed in the entire country.
Sightings of bald eagles and nests have occurred in unusual spots, too. Last summer, an eagle crashed into a Gold Coast hotel window. In the spring of 2016, several were seen soaring and landing in a wide-open park near a landfill on Chicago’s South…