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Although the Miller Park Zoo eagles Beauty and Mathata did not hatch an eaglet, they did give birth to renewed interest in their species in Bloomington-Normal.

The zoo as well as the articles, photo gallery and eagle cam link at www.pantagraph.com received large numbers of visitors.

The two eagles continued to care for the egg well beyond the normal incubation time - as if they, like those who closely watched their saga, did not want to give up hope.

But while we won't be hearing the pitter-patter of little talons at the zoo, the near fairy tale story at Miller Park does have a happy ending, in the broader sense.

Bald eagles have made an incredible comeback in the United States thanks to the efforts of state and federal agencies, conservations groups and individuals.

By 1963, there were only 417 breeding pairs of bald eagles in the Lower 48. Today, there are 9,789 nesting pairs.

The bald eagle, among the first to be included in the Endangered Species Act of 1973, was reclassified from endangered to threatened in 1995.

By the end of this month, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is expected to remove the bald eagle from the Endangered Species Act, considering it a "recovered" species.

Eagles will still be protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Given Harper, an eagle expert who chairs Illinois Wesleyan University's biology department, said, "It's certainly a success story."

And the success includes Illinois.

There are more than 100 nesting pairs of eagles in Illinois.

Harper said that includes nests at Clinton Lake and near the Illinois River, south of Peoria, at Banner Marsh and Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge. Harper recently saw a bald eagle at Evergreen Lake.

More than 3,000 bald eagles spend the winter in Illinois. Most of them are concentrated along the Mississippi River, but the Illinois River is also a good viewing spot.

Starved Rock State Park and Havana are among Illinois communities that have bald eagle days each winter.

People should use the newfound interest in eagles triggered by Beauty and Mathata to learn more about their wild brethren and take the opportunity to see them in the wild.

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