National symbol soars to new heights in PA

Bald eagle 2
Bald eagle in flight. (Pennsylvania Game Commission photo)

I always look forward to the Pennsylvania Game Commission's annual bald eagle report, which they release just before July 4.

It's always such good news.

Sure enough, this year the commission reports another population increase for the national symbol.

A year ago, there were 206 confirmed eagle nests in 51 counties.

This year: 252 nests in 56 counties.

“We’re to the point in Pennsylvania where the bald eagle’s success is something that’s expected,” said Game Commission Executive Director Carl G. Roe in a press release. “Year after year, their numbers grow. Year after year, their range grows broader."

Better yet: 16 of those nests are in the five southeastern counties.

Philadelphia continues to amaze people. It has two bald eagle nests, both of which produced young this year. One is in a great spot for observing the eagles without disturbing them. It's at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum.

Montgomery County and Delaware County each have an active nest, and each was successful this year.

Bucks, which offers great river habitat for eagles, has four nests, all successful this year.

But topping the charts is Chester County. It has eight nests. Six were successful this year. In another one, the lone chick fell out of the nest and died. In the eighth, one chick survived, but another chick fell out. It was rescued and taken to rehab, but had to be euthanized.

A bit of history from the game commission press release:

Just 30 years ago, the bald eagle’s future in Pennsylvania looked bleak. Its population decimated by the effects of water pollution, persecution and compromised nest success caused by organochlorine pesticides such as DDT, only three pairs of nesting eagles remained in the state – all of them located in Crawford County, in northwestern Pennsylvania along the Ohio border.

But in 1983, the Game Commission launched what would become a seven-year bald eagle restoration program. The agency, as part of a federal restoration initiative, sent employees to Saskatchewan to obtain eaglets from wild nests.

Initially, 12 seven-week-old eaglets were taken from nests in Canada’s Churchill River valley and brought to specially constructed towers at two sites. At these towers – at Haldeman Island on the Susquehanna River near Harrisburg, and at Shohola Lake in Pike County – the birds were “hacked,” a process by which the eaglets essentially are raised by humans, but without knowing it, then released gradually into the wild.

In all, 88 bald eaglets from Canada were released from the sites as part of the program, which was funded in part by the Richard King Mellon Foundation of Pittsburgh and the federal Endangered Species Fund.

This reintroduction jump-started the recovery.