President Clinton last week announced that the American bald eagle is not just back from the brink, but flourishing.

It didn't take a presidential declaration to make that clear to Carol Ghebelian, of Indian Head in Charles County.

"We have them as yard birds. They perch right here," Ghebelian said.

The birds that visit her home belong to Maryland's second-largest population of nesting bald eagles, and part of a success story that has brought the national bird's population back from pollution-ravaged lows.

Charles County this year is host to 37 pairs of nesting bald eagles -- more than seven times the number it had in the late 1970s, according to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

St. Mary's County has 16 nesting pairs and Calvert County has six pairs, according to the department. The leading jurisdiction in the state is Dorchester County, on the Eastern Shore, with 58 nesting pairs, according to the department.

The eagles have benefited from federal protections including the 1972 ban on the pesticide DDT. The chemical, which the birds absorbed by eating contaminated fish, caused eggs to become so thin-shelled they broke.

In the late 1960s, biologists found just 417 bald eagles in the lower 48 states, compared with more than 5,700 counted this year, according to the Interior Department.

With that strong rebound in mind, President Clinton last week proposed removing the bald eagle from the federal endangered species list. The step could take place next year after the public has had a chance to comment.

In Maryland, state biologists found 41 nesting pairs of eagles during their first statewide survey in 1977. They found 260 pairs this year.

In 1977, Charles and St. Mary's counties had five pairs each, and Calvert County had two pairs.

Ghebelian and other birders have watched the trend with gratification.

"It's just been marvelous to watch the gradual recovery," said Ghebelian, a board member of the Southern Maryland Audubon Society.

She cited several reasons for the local recovery besides the nationwide DDT ban.

"It's not just the pesticides," Ghebelian said. "It's the Potomac. It's the health of the river. It's the return of the [underwater] grasses."

Indeed, biologists say Charles eagles are thriving because the county's creeks and rivers are relatively unspoiled.

The birds feed mainly on fish, and Charles County has a long shoreline -- more than 150 miles -- that abuts some of Maryland's most productive fisheries.

The shoreline is relatively undeveloped, leaving the birds plenty of tall trees as nesting sites and plenty of undisturbed space. Eagles rarely establish a nest within a quarter-mile of a house, according to Glenn Therres, the state's bald eagle biologist.

It all adds up to an eagle population so abundant that the birds may appear in towns, Therres said.

Charles County tourism director Joanne Roland spotted one on the last Saturday in May, as she awaited service at a fast-food restaurant in the county seat of La Plata.

The bird was gliding over a liquor store, Roland said.

"It was soaring around and I said, `I don't believe it. Check it out!' " Roland said. "It was an eagle! Over La Plata!"

CAPTION: American bald eagles are flourishing again, thanks to healthier waterways and a 1972 ban on the pesticide DDT.