| || Several dozen pelicans form a compact band on this lake in the Mississippi Delta, south of New Orleans. With a wingspan of almost 10 feet (3 meters), these large birds—specifically, the Eastern brown pelican—are the state bird of Louisiana. Their impressive beak, with its pouch for holding fish to be fed to their young, has appeared on the official state flag since 1912. In North America, the pelican’s distribution range shrank until the 1970s, but since then its numbers have increased. Today, with 100,000 pairs on the continent, the species is not in immediate danger of extinction. Another bird, familiar from its long association as fierce protector of the Star-Spangled Banner, has also been saved. The American eagle (or bald eagle) was common when it became the national emblem in 1782, but hunting, pesticides (which caused the birds’ eggs to develop with too-thin shells), and habitat loss reduced it to a mere 417 pairs by 1963. Fortunately, protection campaigns saved this mascot, which now numbers almost 6,000 pairs.
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