Bald eagles now nesting in 50 counties

Harrisburg —
The bald eagle’s amazing
recovery from the brink of extinction in this state continues at a
heartwarming pace as America prepares to celebrate the birth of its
independence, according to the Pennsylvania Game
Commission.

So far this year, 192
bald eagle nests – in 50 counties – have been recorded in
Pennsylvania. As recently as 1983, only three Crawford County nests
remained in the state.

The bald eagle has
symbolized freedom in America for more than 225 years. Its
ruggedness and handsome features appealed to the country’s founding
fathers. Well, most of them anyway. Ben Franklin preferred the
innocuous and timid wild turkey. He considered it more
honorable.

But in the spirit of
democracy, and with the blood spilled to acquire this country’s
newfound independence less than a decade old, a congressional
committee, comprised of John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Franklin,
chose the bald eagle, which was proposed by Adams. Despite
Franklin’s loquacious pleas for the gobbler and stated disdain for
eagles, Congress directed Charles Thomson to develop what became
known as the “Great Seal” of the United States. Interestingly,
Franklin wrote that he thought the seal created by Thomson, “…
looks more like a turkey.” 

When the founding
forefathers were deliberating what should appear on the Great Seal
in the 1780s, America was believed to be home to as many as 100,000
nesting pairs of bald eagles in the Lower 48. By the 1960s, that
number would drop to less than 500 pairs. Today, eagle nesting
pairs are believed to number about 10,000. 

“The bald eagle’s
remarkable comeback is a product of sound and progressive wildlife
management and environmental reform,” explained Game Commission
Executive Director Carl G. Roe. “Here was a species that was so
smitten by the deleterious ecological consequences associated with
DDT that it was barely hanging on in the Lower 48. But today, the
bald eagle is back in numbers that haven’t been seen here or
elsewhere in America since before the Civil
War.

“As wildlife managers,
we are proud of that accomplishment. It is the product of sound
science, interstate and international cooperation and commitment to
the resource. As bald eagles continue to move closer and closer to
this state’s urban settings, more and more Pennsylvanians will get
to appreciate the progress that has been made with this symbolic
species. And they will. Immediately. Their presence is that
captivating!”

It is important to
remember, though, that the relatively recent appearance of bald
eagles around Philadelphia, and now Pittsburgh, is related to
what’s been happening in the more remote areas of the state, where
eagles have been moving in at a phenomenal pace. It doesn’t hurt,
though, that both cities are strategically located along major
river systems with good fisheries.

The 192 bald eagle
nests recorded this spring include eight that were built, but where
pairs did not lay eggs. Counties supporting the largest numbers of
known nesting pairs are: Crawford, 22; Lancaster, 16; Pike, 16;
Mercer, 11; and York 11.

“It seems likely that
Pennsylvania has eclipsed 200 bald eagle nests, but until they’re
found or confirmed, we’ll stick with what we know from our official
count,” explained Doug Gross, a Game Commission endangered birds
biologist. “Each year, this nesting snapshot becomes more
complicated to develop. And this year was no exception, given the
increasing numbers of eagles and areas they now occupy, and the
cold, blustery conditions Pennsylvania endured this past spring.

 

“Some pairs are not using the nests
they used last year. Some seem to have moved to alternative nests
in neighboring states – New York, New Jersey, Maryland or Ohio. In
addition, we still don’t know the status of several nesting pairs
yet and have heard reports about other nests that we haven’t been
able to confirm.”

Reporting on eagle
nests is anything but an exact science. In 2009, the June nest
count was at least 170; that number increased by four until year’s
end. In 2008, the June estimate was 140 known nests; the final nest
count was 156. The agency learns of new nests with increasing
regularity from the public. Some of the latest reported were found
by birders walking trails in off-road
locations.

Residents aware of a
bald eagle nest – they are among the largest nests of all birds –
in their area should consider reporting it to the Pennsylvania Game
Commission. The easiest way to contact the agency and Doug Gross is
through: pgccomments@state.pa.us.
Use the words “Eagle Nest Information” in the subject field.
Counties where nests have not yet reported this year are: Beaver,
Bedford, Blair, Cambria, Cameron, Fulton, Franklin, Greene,
Lackawanna, Lebanon, Lehigh, Potter, Schuylkill, Snyder,
Susquehanna, Union and Washington.

Although
Pennsylvania’s bald eagle nesting population has been increasing,
it hasn’t been without some bumps along the way. More nests means
more eaglets are usually involved in nest collapses caused by
spring snowfall and strong winds, or find themselves on the forest
floor and at the mercy of predators as a result of juvenile
missteps spurred by bad weather or human activities.

In Mercer County,
Wildlife Conservation Officer Don Chaybin was led by David Wade, of
Jamestown, to an eagle nest blow-down in Greene Township where the
officer found two eaglets, one dead, the other badly injured. Their
nest tree had been uprooted by high winds during a Memorial Day
thunderstorm.

“The nestlings were
almost ready to fledge and they must have ridden the nest to the
ground,” Chaybin explained. “Unfortunately, one was killed outright
and the surviving eagle was severely injured. It was taken to Sue
DeArment, at the Tamarack Wildlife Rehabilitation, who worked with
Dr. Ken Felix, of the Glenwood Pet Hospital in Erie, to treat the
bird. In spite of everyone’s efforts, the young eagle died a week
later of unknown causes.”

But WCO Chaybin’s work
with young bald eagles apparently wasn’t done. In mid-June, Brandon
Herriott, of New Wilmington, while fishing in the Big Bend area
along the Shenango River in Jefferson Township, discovered a young
eagle. The bird appeared to be too weak to
fly.

Herriott concluded the
bird must be hungry, so he filleted a 28-inch northern pike and
left it with the eagle. It began feeding almost immediately. The
fisherman left and contacted Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission
Waterways Conservation Officer Jeff Giardina, who passed the
information on to Chaybin.

Several hours passed
between the time Herriott left the bird and he returned with WCO
Chaybin. It had consumed about half the fish and was noticeably
more active and appeared stronger.

“When I got there, the
bird was active, but was captured quickly,” Chaybin said. “The
eaglet was found within a mile of an active nest, but adult birds
were not seen, even though the young bird was very vocal. Tamarack
Wildlife Rehabilitation also received this eaglet, where it remains
under the care of Sue DeArment and Dr. Felix.”

More eagles and nests
are placing an increased burden on wildlife rehabilitators. “Our
wildlife rehabilitators are taking on an increasing load of work to
nurture and restore the health of eaglets so they can be
reintroduced into the wild,” Gross noted.  “Bill and Stephanie
Streeter, at the Delaware Valley Raptor Center in Milford, also
have been caring for some downed young eagles. I can’t say enough
about the good things our licensed wildlife rehabilitators are
doing. They really do deserve recognition and the public’s
support!”  

Even with the bald
eagle population’s impressive response to improving environmental
conditions in Pennsylvania and America, the species still has
plenty of quality open range to occupy before it will be proposed
for delisting in Pennsylvania. That the species is building nests
in the shadows of the Pennsylvania’s largest cities is
gratifying.

“There is a
considerable amount of unoccupied or sparsely-used territory in
Pennsylvania for nesting eagles,” said Gross. “The best river
destinations include the Susquehanna River’s West Branch, and the
Beaver, Monongahela and Youghiogheny rivers. Our Lake Erie
shoreline also has plenty to offer, as do many unoccupied lakes and
impoundments found across the state.”

One of the eight nests
that did not produce eggs this spring was the nest in Pittsburgh.
But, Gross suggested, Allegheny Countians shouldn’t fret just
yet.

“When a pair of eagles
bonds and builds a nest in the spring, if the nest doesn’t produce
young the first year, there’s a stronger chance that it will the
next year,” Gross emphasized. “If eagles can nest successfully in
Philadelphia, there’s no reason to doubt the tenacity and viability
of the Pittsburgh pair. The future looks bright for the Steel
City’s nest.”

Another interesting
sidelight to the 2010 nesting information is that the county with
the largest number of nesting eagles in 2009 increased its total to
22 this year with six new nests. Crawford County was the bald
eagle’s stronghold during the bird’s population collapse and has
remained as such since then. Yet, it increased its number of nests
by more than 25 percent over winter.  It is a case of the strong
getting stronger. It is also testament to the fantastic eagle
habitat found there. 

The Game Commission
continues to heighten its efforts to further the public’s
understanding of bald eagles. A comprehensive bald eagle endangered
species account and bald eagle nest etiquette guide have been added
recently to the agency’s website at www.pgc.state.pa.us. The references
are found under Endangered Species.

“The updated
Threatened and Endangered Species Section on the agency’s website
gives Pennsylvanians an unprecedented chance to get acquainted with
this remarkable bird and many other species of special concern,”
said Roe. “These references will help everyone understand that
although bald eagles are back, they still need space and require
special considerations.”

The Game Commission
currently classifies the bald eagle as a threatened species in
Pennsylvania. They were removed from the federal endangered species
list by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2007, because
delisting goals had been achieved.

In 1983, the Game
Commission began a seven-year bald eagle restoration program in
which the agency sent employees to Saskatchewan to obtain eaglets
from wilderness nests. The Richard King Mellon Foundation of
Pittsburgh and the federal Endangered Species Fund provided
financial assistance for this effort. In all, 88 bald eaglets from
Canada were released from sites at Dauphin County’s Haldeman Island
and Pike County’s Shohola Falls. The resurgence of eagles in
Pennsylvania is directly related to this program, which also was
carried out in other states in the
Northeast.

Categories: Pennsylvania – Jeff Mulhollem

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