Pennsylvania bald eagle nests top 100 for first time in more than a century

| 29 Sep 2011 | 09:01

HARRISBURG - The bald eagle, as symbolic of American freedom as the Fourth of July and Old Glory itself, is nesting in more than 100 locations across the Commonwealth for the first time in more than a century, the Pennsylvania Game Commission announced last week. The Game Commission started Pennsylvania’s seven-year bald eagle reintroduction program in 1983, when three nesting pairs remained in the Commonwealth. The agency sent employees to Saskatchewan to obtain 12 eaglets from wilderness nests in the first year. With financial assistance from the Richard King Mellon Foundation of Pittsburgh and the federal Endangered Species Fund, the project spurred the release of 88 Canadian bald eagles into the wilds of Pennsylvania at Haldeman Island in Dauphin County and Shohola Falls in Pike County. The Game Commission, partnering with other states and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), helped to bring bald eagles back from the brink of extinction with reintroductions throughout the Northeast in the 1980s. Pennsylvania’s eagle resurgence also was likely stimulated by young eagles dispersing from the Chesapeake Bay, which now has more than 600 nesting pairs, and neighboring states that also reintroduced eagles. Bald eagles are nesting in at least 31 of the state’s 67 counties, according to preliminary census tabulations. There are at least 106 active nesting pairs (99 confirmed in 2005), and an additional 20 pairs appear to have established territories, which typically is a prerequisite task to nest-building. New nests have been confirmed in Bucks, Columbia, Fulton and Sullivan counties. Field staff also is looking into reports of new nests in Adams, Lawrence, Luzerne, Mercer, Montour and Wayne counties. “I fully expect to add more eagle nests to our preliminary total, because there are plenty of unanswered questions about a substantial number of nests,” said Doug Gross, Game Commission ornithologist. “Agency Wildlife Conservation Officers are following up reports from birders, many participating in the second Pennsylvania Breeding Bird Atlas, about eagle nests, but their ability to confirm eagle nesting is compromised by the camouflage of leaf-out and the rugged, hard-to-reach areas nesting eagles use.” The return of the bald eagle in both Pennsylvania and the contiguous United States is directly related to reintroductions and nest site protection. But, the species future hinged on the banning of DDT and other organochlorine pesticides. Eagles, as well ospreys, peregrine falcons and a multitude of songbirds, were rendered reproductively incapable by DDT and the like, because the birds were bio-accumulating the contaminants the pesticides contained through prey consumption. DDT - banned nationally in 1972 - rendered the shells of birds’ eggs so brittle, they broke when sat upon. “The best scientific and commercial data available indicates that the bald eagle has recovered,” the US Fish and Wildlife Service reported in the Feb. 16, 2006, edition of the Federal Register. “The bald eagle population in the lower 48 States has increased from approximately 487 active nests in 1963, to an estimated minimum 7,066 breeding pairs today.” To learn more about bald eagles and other threatened and endangered species, visit the Game Commission’s Web site (, click on “Wildlife” in the left column, then select “Endangered and Threatened Species,” and choose “Bald Eagle” in the list of “Threatened Species.”