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Hunting- The bald eagle's presence will be more visible in the Commonwealth this Fourth of July than any Independence Day in the past 100 years, according to Pennsylvania Game Commission officials. "Pennsylvania's bald eagle population continues to grow in leaps and bounds," noted Vern Ross, Game Commission executive director. "They were so imperiled here during the 1980s that only three nesting pairs remained in the state. Now, bald eagles are nesting in dozens of locations statewide.

"It's gratifying to know these magnificent birds have unquestionably reestablished their place in Pennsylvania's Great Outdoors. For many of us, seeing one overhead equals or exceeds the excitement we feel when the sky lights up with fireworks. They are stop-in-your-tracks handsome, an enduring symbol that showcases America's rugged spirit, strength and resolve."

PGC Photo/Hal Korber

Preliminary census work completed recently by the Game Commission documents a total of 94 known bald eagle pairs settling to nest in 25 of the state's 67 counties. That's up 14 pairs from 2004, and establishes another high in a string of record-breaking nesting seasons by Pennsylvania's bald eagles. New nesting territories have been established by bald eagles in: Armstrong County, 1; Chester, 3; Forest, 1; Lancaster, 1; Luzerne, 1; Mercer, 2; Pike, 4; Warren 2; and York, 1.

"We're closing in on 100 known bald eagle nests," said Doug Gross, Game Commission biologist said. "In fact, we probably already have the six more nests we need to hit that milestone. We just haven't found them yet!"

Although the number of nesting pairs may seem slight when you consider the Commonwealth's expansive 45,000 square miles, the bald eagle population gains Pennsylvania has experienced are of historic proportion and a direct result of a bald eagle reintroduction program the Game Commission launched in 1983. The raptor's stunning comeback represents the return of an endangered species many thought would follow Pennsylvania's peregrine falcons into extirpation. The peregrine falcon, which was gone from the state's landscape for more than 20 years, also was the beneficiary of a reintroduction program launched by the Game Commission in the mid-1970s.

America's bald eagle population - and many other bird species - was devastated by DDT pesticide poisoning from the close of World War II until it was banned in 1972. Pennsylvania - neighbor to Chesapeake Bay, which is the home of the largest nesting bald eagle population in the eastern United States - had become a certified wasteland for nesting bald eagles by the late 1960s. Once so plentiful they were designated America's national symbol in 1782, bald eagles had become indirect victims of an insect-killing chemical that bio-accumulated in their bodies and made their eggs so brittle, they broke when females sat on them. Unable to successfully hatch a brood, eagle populations nationwide slowly declined and ultimately disappeared from many areas.

Now, it appears bald eagles have turned the proverbial corner. In fact, their progress has been so phenomenal, the Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners will be asked to preliminarily approve down-listing it from an endangered species to a threatened species when it meets June 28. Bald eagles have been the poster child of Pennsylvania's endangered species list since its creation in 1978.

"It's quite a milestone for Pennsylvania's bald eagle recovery program to have more than 90 pairs of nesting eagles in the state," explained Gross. "Many have been drawn to the same remote areas that held eagles before the state's population collapse. But others are building nests in places that are, quite frankly, surprisingly close to thriving population centers.

"Bald eagles are invading the quiet areas of the Philadelphia suburbs, where they are nesting in forested areas near large streams and reservoirs. They seem to be choosing areas where there are no motorboats. One pair regularly flies over a major highway to visit their nest with many birders watching them.

"Although eagles are becoming habituated to certain human behaviors, noisy intrusions into nesting areas are always unwelcome," noted Gross. "The buzz or roar of all-terrain vehicles, power boats and chainsaws are disturbing to eagles, and can be grounds for them to abandon a nest site."

Two new nests were found on small isolated lakes in the Poconos; another on the Clarion River, a first for the watershed since the eagle reintroduction began. Each year, nests are uncovered that local residents were aware of, but hadn't reported to the Game Commission. Most often, they assume the agency knows of the nest. Frequently, though, it does not. Interestingly, two new eagle nests were located and reported by Pennsylvania Breeding Atlas volunteers this spring.

Eagles still are not nesting on some of their more historic nesting grounds, such as Presque Isle and the Susquehanna River's West Branch, but the imperiled species surely has experienced a resurgence that has filled a long, noticeable void in Pennsylvania's wildlife community. If their progress continues - there still is plenty of unoccupied eagle habitat in the state - bald eagles will one day likely inhabit the quieter sections of every major waterway and impoundment in the Commonwealth.

Pennsylvania's eagle nests are expected to fledge more than 100 eaglets this summer. In 2004, 112 eaglets fledged from Pennsylvania nests.

The Commonwealth's bald eagle reintroduction began in 1983, when agency employees flew to Saskatchewan, Canada, and received permission to remove 12 eaglets from nests. Once in Pennsylvania, the eaglets were placed in elevated nesting structures - called hack boxes - on Haldeman Island in Dauphin County and near Shohola Falls in Pike County. The seven-year project, which was financed by the Richard King Mellon Foundation of Pittsburgh and the federal Endangered Species Fund, eventually led to the release of 88 Canadian eagles in Penn's Woods. The reintroduction was buoyed by improving water quality and other environmental conditions; increased law enforcement efforts targeting wildlife black market operations; and eagle reintroductions in neighboring states.

Nationally, bald eagles were upgraded from an endangered to threatened species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1995. There is considerable anticipation that the species soon will be removed from the federal Endangered and Threatened Species List. Bald eagles were first declared a national endangered species in 1967, when it was believed fewer than 500 nests were found in the lower 48 states. Today, the Chesapeake Bay has more than 600 nesting pairs; the lower 48, more than 6,000 nesting pairs. Pre-colonial America was thought to have up to 100,000 bald eagles.

Each year, about 20 percent of Pennsylvania's eagle nests fail for reasons such as disturbances, predators and harsh weather. This year was no exception, some nests were lost to high waters, others were damaged substantially by heavy snows and winds. Nesting losses, at least in recent years, have been offset by the proliferation of new nests.

The state's largest concentrations of bald eagles are found in three geographic areas: Crawford and Erie counties; along the lower Susquehanna River in Chester, Lancaster and York counties; and the Poconos region. For years, Crawford County - particularly the Pymatuning region - had represented the state's last stand for and largest concentration of bald eagles. This year, Crawford has 14 active nests (12 in 2004); lower Susquehanna River, 16 (12). In the Poconos, there are 15 nests (Pike County, 12; Monroe, 1; Wayne 1; and eastern Luzerne County, 1.)

For more information on bald eagles, please visit the Game Commission's website (, click on "Wildlife" then choose "Endangered Species" and then select "bald eagle."

Source: PA Game Commision


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