There was a time, and not all that long ago, that the sight of a bald eagle soaring overhead was a reason to put down the fly rods and break out the cameras when fishing on the Little Schuylkill River.
Now, such sights are still appreciated, but have become so common they are no reason to leave the water. They do, however, attest to one of Pennsylvania Game Commission's successful conservation projects that began 30 years ago when efforts began to restore populations of our national symbol.
According to the most recent PGC survey of bald eagle nests statewide the numbers indicate another high point in an impressive upward trend. So far this year, 252 eagle nests have been confirmed throughout the state, with nesting eagles present in 56 of Pennsylvania's 67 counties.
Those results are a major increase from last year's mid-year report. A year ago, there were 206 confirmed eagle nests in 51 counties.
"We're to the point in Pennsylvania where the bald eagle's success is something that's expected," PGC executive director Carl Roe said. "Year after year, their numbers grow. Year after year, their range grows broader.|
"It truly is a remarkable story. And remarkably, it's a true story, and one that continually builds up to a better and better ending."
Just 30 years ago, the bald eagle's future in Pennsylvania looked bleak with its population decimated by the effects of water pollution, persecution and compromised nest success caused by pesticides such as DDT. Pennsylvania's only three pairs of nesting eagles were located in Crawford County, in northwestern Pennsylvania along the Ohio border.
Then the PGC launched in 1983 what would become a seven-year bald eagle restoration program. As part of a federal restoration initiative, the PGC sent employees to Saskatchewan, Canada, 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 Haldeman Island on the Susquehanna River near Harrisburg, and at Shohola Lake in Pike County. There the birds were "hacked," a process where 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, and by 1998 Pennsylvania was home to 25 pairs of nesting bald eagles.
Within the next three years, the number of nesting pairs doubled, and eagles continued to thrive. In 2005, the PGC took the bald eagle off the state's endangered list and reclassified it as a threatened species, and a year later, more than 100 nests were confirmed statewide. And now, the number stands at 252.
In 2012, 206 nests were reported preliminarily, but the year-end total was 237 statewide. It was a showing similar to 2011, when the preliminary total of 203 nests increased to 217 by year's end.
While the bald eagle population grows stronger each year in Pennsylvania, the birds remain classified as a threatened species statewide. Their rebound, however, continues to astonish and provide those who love wildlife with reason to celebrate.
For more information about bald eagles, visit the PGC website's "Bald Eagle Watching in Pennsylvania" page at http://www.pgc.state.pa.us/