2009-07-09 / Local & State

Bald Eagles Nesting In 49 PA Counties

Just 20 years after the last eaglets were brought into Pennsylvania from Canada, bald eagles have recorded remarkable nesting successes here, according to Pennsylvania Game Commission officials. And, with the Fourth of July just recently celebrated, the opportunity for Pennsylvanians to see a bald eagle in the wild continues to increase, thanks to the recent completion of a bald eagle nest viewing platform on State Game Land 180 in Pike County.

"The story of the bald eagle's recovery is living proof that responsible natural resource management and conservation make Pennsylvania a better place to live and ensure wildlife will be around for future generations to enjoy," explained Game Commission Executive Director Carl G. Roe. "As our nation's symbol, the bald eagle's presence is essential in America's outdoors. They immediately add a touch of true wilderness to any area they inhabit, whether it's on the shoreline of Philadelphia or a remote stretch of one of the commonwealth's river systems.

"With the banning of DDT in 1972, as well as the ensuing environmental clean up efforts launched in the 1970s, the stage was set for bald eagles to recover on their own. However, there is no doubt that the Game Commission's reintroduction efforts from 1983 through 1989 helped the bald eagle population grow exponentially, from just three known nests in Crawford County in 1983, to nearly 180 nests in 49 of the state's 67 counties this year."

At the present time, there are at least 170 known nests, including 36 new nests statewide. Also, for the first time in the agency's annual survey, Clinton and Mifflin counties were added to the list of counties hosting bald eagle nests. In June of 2008, Game Commission biologists estimated Pennsylvania had 140 known nests in 47 counties. The final nest count turned out to be 156.

"We have realistic expectations of a similar pattern of increase in 2009," said Doug Gross, Game Commission biologist. "Some pairs that successfully nested in 2008 do not seem to be nesting this year because of storm damage to their nests. Most of these pairs remain in their territories and may rejoin the active nesting population next year."

As recently as 1983, there were only three eagle nests remaining in Pennsylvania. That year, the Game Commission began a seven-year bald eagle reintroduction 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 Canadian bald eagles were released from sites located at Dauphin County's Haldeman Island and Pike County's Shohola Falls.

Since 1983, Pennsylvania's eagle nests have produced more than 1,200 eaglets, and the population has increased by about 15 percent annually. But, while this growth and expansion is to be celebrated, there has been some "crowding" reported in some areas.

"We are hearing of more eagleto eagle conflicts at or near nests with a 'rogue eagle' interfering with an established pair," Gross said. "Some of these rogues are beaten back by the established nesting pairs, but others do interfere with nesting and cause some nest failures. This is typical of a population that is reaching saturation in parts of its range, such as the northwestern counties and in the Upper Delaware River watershed.

"There's still plenty of new or sparsely-used territory for nesting pairs in the commonwealth. Some of the best remaining eagle nesting habitat includes the Susquehanna's north and west branches, the Monongahela River, the Youghiogheny River and the Lake Erie shoreline. There also are many large lakes and impoundments scattered across the state with more than adequate fisheries and no eagles."

Despite the competition for elbow room, there continue to be reports about nesting eagles that astound biologists. One of the more unusual nesting stories from this year comes from Northampton County, where four eaglets were found in one nest.

"This is extremely unusual for eagles, as they generally lay from one to three eggs," Gross said. "News of this nest has attracted the attention of many eagle advocates and researchers who have never heard of this many eaglets in a nest."

"What's so exciting about the bald eagle's return is that each year they're nesting in more counties, strengthening their population in Pennsylvania and giving more people the chance to enjoy these magnificent birds here," Roe said. "Their presence is stronger than ever and it doesn't appear that they're close to being done claiming new nesting territories in the commonwealth."

To improve bald eagle viewing from a safe location, the Game Commission has built a nest viewing station on SGL 180, in Pike County, that will help folks get a closer, unobstructed view of nesting activities.

John C. Shutkufski, who serves as the land management group supervisor for the agency in Wayne, Pike, Lackawanna and Susquehanna counties, said that his Pike County Food and Cover Corps crew built a viewing platform that overlooks a bald eagle nest at the Shohola Falls Waterfowl Management Area impoundment on SGL180. This platform is near the Game Commission's hacking tower site that was part of the agency's original eagle restoration project in the 1980s.

The entrance to the viewing platform is near the end of Spring Brook Road, off of Route 6, Shohola Falls, and a large wooden sign is visible on site stating "PA Game Commission Eagle Viewing Station."

"The public may park and view the eagles from start to finish as they mate and rear their young, and eagles sail by the viewing platform regularly," Shutkufski said. "The viewing deck is a substantial distance from the nest, so a good pair of binoculars, a spotting scope and /or telescopic camera will be a necessity. Also, the deck is wheelchair accessible, and is portable so it can be moved to a better location in the future if needed."

Bald eagles have symbolized America's greatness for centuries and now they've become one of America's latest success stories in wildlife management and environmental reform.

The Game Commission currently classifies the bald eagle as a threatened species in Pennsylvania. They are no longer protected by the federal Endangered Species Act - delisted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2007 - because delisting goals had been achieved. However, bald eagles continue to receive federal protection under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which safeguard the birds and their nests from disturbances and destruction.

Today, bald eagles are nesting in every state but Hawaii, which they never inhabited. The lower 48 states have a nesting population that is approaching 10,000 pairs, up from the little more than 400 America had in 1963.

The Game Commission is always interested in reports from the public about new nests and news about bald eagle nests. The status of many nests are difficult to obtain because they are obscured by leaves. The public often provides valuable information about the number of eaglets produced by each nest, and other important information that otherwise might not be known.

"The increased use of rivers and lakes at this time of year by the boating public has yielded new nests to our inventory in recent years," Gross noted. "If you encounter a nest, give the birds some elbow room, take some notes on the location and the eagles' behavior, and drop us an email about the specifics. Remember, we cannot protect a nest unless we know about it."

E-mails can be sent to pgccomments@ state.pa.us. Use the words "Eagle Nest Information" in the subject field.

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