After bald eagles nearly went extinct in the 1960s, restoration programs slowly rebuilt the bird’s numbers. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)

The oldest known banded bald eagle seems to have been killed by a car on a road in western New York, according to state officials. But the 38-year-old bird of prey surpassed the previous longevity record for this species by five years, which they say could be a sign that conservation efforts are helping bald eagles make a comeback.

After bald eagles nearly went extinct in the 1960s, they were listed as an endangered species in the lower 48 states under the federal Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1966. In 1972, a national ban was passed on the pesticide DDT because the chemical inhibited eagle eggs from hatching in the nest. Taking, or killing, bald eagles was prohibited by federal law in 1973. [Photos: Bald Eagles of the Mighty Mississippi]

Intensive restoration programs in the late 1970s slowly rebuilt the bird’s numbers, and since 1999 the population of breeding bald eagles has increased each year, according to New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation.

Eagles and other large birds are sometimes banded to help researchers track their migration patterns and assess the birds’ health. Banding records indicate that the record-setting eagle was a nestling, or too young to leave its nest, when it was brought from Lake Puposky in northern Minnesota to the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge in Seneca Falls, N.Y.

The eagle was banded in August 1977, when it was only a few months old, state officials said. After reaching breeding age, it nested in Hemlock-Canadice State Forest, about an hour’s drive from the refuge.

The eagle, called 03142, was a father to many eaglets over the ensuing years. Peter Nye, a retired state wildlife biologist who started New York’s restoration program, said that when researchers banded 03142, they “had no idea how very special and significant this young bald eagle would become to our nascent bald eagle restoration program.

Over 13 years, from 1975 to 1988, 198 bald eagles were collected from nests in other states and raised in New York. Today, New York hosts 350 pairs of nesting bald eagles.

The 38-year-old eagle was found June 2 with a recently killed rabbit nearby; the bird appeared to have been hit by a vehicle. Such collisions cause more than 30 percent of known eagle deaths, according to the Department of Environmental Conservation.

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