Game Commission Confirms Nesting Bald Eagles in Philadelphia

Mar 16, 2007, 01:00 ET from Pennsylvania Game Commission

    HARRISBURG, Pa., March 16 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Football fans are
 sometimes superstitious about "signs" that their team may have a good
 season. If that is the case, Philadelphia Eagles' fans may just have a
 reason to live up to their boisterous reputation this year.
     Pennsylvania Game Commission officials today announced that they have
 confirmed the first known bald eagle nest in Philadelphia County in more
 than 200 years. Game Commission Wildlife Conservation Officer (WCO) Jerry
 Czech, who serves Philadelphia County, reported a bald eagle nest has been
 located in the City of Brotherly Love, and that Game Commission personnel
 and volunteers have been monitoring the nest and documenting activity.
     "We don't know if the nest will result in the pair successfully
 breeding and laying eggs yet, but we are very hopeful," said Dan Brauning,
 Game Commission Wildlife Diversity Supervisor, and a native of
 Philadelphia. "Each year, about 20 percent of Pennsylvania's eagle nests
 fail for reasons such as disturbances, predators and harsh weather.
 However, our confirmation of an eagle nest within the Philadelphia City
 limits demonstrates the resilience of this species and its apparent growing
 tolerance to human activity. This find is an historic moment that returns
 some of Pennsylvania's native wildlife to the doorstep of its largest
     Brauning said that Game Commission officials will not reveal the exact
 location of the nest site to avoid drawing unnecessary attention and
 possible disturbance to the nest.
     "In June of 2006, just in time for the Fourth of July holiday, the Game
 Commission announced that Pennsylvania had -- for the first time in more
 than a century -- recorded more than 100 bald eagle nests in the state,"
 Brauning said. "This nest in Philadelphia, combined with other eagle
 activity reports from around the state, is a good sign that we will be able
 to announce even more confirmed nests this year when we provide our annual
 summary in late June."
     After reviewing all reports from 2006, Game Commission biologists were
 able to confirm 116 active nests that produced at least 134 young, which
 also marked a new record for bald eagles in Pennsylvania. So far, the
 agency has received reports of at least nine new eagle nests this year.
     Other Game Commission personnel are reporting bald eagle nesting
 activity, such as Crawford County Land Management Group Supervisor Jerry A.
 Bish, who oversees, among other State Game Lands, the Game Commission's
 Pymatuning Wildlife Management Area. He noted that eagle nesting now is in
 full swing and that most seem to be doing well.
     "If you are interested in seeing eagles, now is the best time of year,"
 LMGS Bish said. "They are concentrated at nest sites and there are no
 leaves on the trees. As with all wildlife, observe it from a safe distance.
 Disturbing an eagle nest can impact eagle reproduction, and is a federal
 and state offense."
     Crawford County WCO Mario L. Piccirilli said that bird enthusiasts are
 "flocking" to the agency's Pymatuning Wildlife Management Area to view
 avian raptors at this time of year.
     "Numerous eagles are on their nests incubating eggs at this time," he
 said. "Unfortunately, one adult eagle recently met its demise when it ran
 into power lines while its mate was on the nest incubating.
     "Eagles can be seen regularly in the Pymatuning, Conneaut Lake and
 Linesville areas and are a sight to behold, especially the adult birds with
 their distinctive white head and tail plumage. The eagles can be seen
 winging their way over downtown Conneaut Lake as traffic passes directly
     LMGS Shayne A. Hoachlander, who oversees SGLs in Crawford and Erie
 counties, noted that some bald eagle pairs have started to incubate eggs in
 nests within his district.
     Erie County WCO Larry M. Smith said that, with eagles returning to
 their nest sites, it is very important for people not to approach or
 disturb these areas. "Everyone needs to stay out of the restricted areas at
 these nest locations," he urged.
     Erie County WCO Darin L. Clark reports that he was checking eagle nests
 recently when he saw that one pair has already started to incubate.
     Bald eagle sightings are not restricted to just southeastern and
 northwestern Pennsylvania, however. Union County WCO Dirk B. Remensnyder
 said that the residents of Lewisburg have been getting a good show
     "Every evening, a bald eagle has been searching the river for its next
 meal," WCO Remensnyder said. "So far, people have gotten to watch it take a
 goose and a squirrel for its dinner."
     Potter County WCO Denise H. Mitcheltree recently observed a mature bald
 eagle flying over the Susquehanna River outside of Lock Haven.
     "The bright white head feathers were quite reflective and certainly
 caught the attention of many drivers as they craned their necks to catch a
 second glimpse of this majestic bird," WCO Mitcheltree said.
     In early February, Clarion County WCO Rodney E. Bimber was traveling
 through Tionesta with his wife. "As we approached a bridge, two immature
 eagles swooped over our car fully involved in a mating ritual," he said.
 "When we returned later, one of the youngsters was sitting in a tree near
 the bridge surveying the river. It is great to see the eagles making such a
 strong comeback in the area."
     Elk County Forester Bryce Hall noted that bald eagles have become a
 fairly common sight along the Clarion River corridor in the Northcentral
 Region, but he was still quite surprised to spot four mature bald eagles
 perched in the same tree in the Owls Nest area of Elk County.
     Forest County WCO Daniel P. Schmidt reports that he recently had the
 privilege to see three bald eagles, two mature and one immature, flying in
 his district.
     Centre County WCO Eric L. Seth noted that a pair of bald eagles has
 once again returned to Bald Eagle State Park in Centre County. "One adult
 began sitting on a nest on Feb. 9, leading us to believe that incubation
 has started," he said. "This pair has been very successful in the past
 fledging young. Hopefully, the trend will continue this year."
     Cambria County WCO Larry Olsavsky reported that visitors to Prince
 Gallitzin State Park has been observing two mature bald eagles feeding on
 some shorebirds. "We've deposited a few road-killed deer in the area to
 keep the eagles around if the shorebirds decide to leave," he said.
     LMGS Doug Dunkerely, who oversees SGLs in Beaver, Washington, Allegheny
 and Greene counties, reported that bald eagle sightings are increasing in
 his area.
     "A mature bald eagle has been sighted on SGL 232, which was designated
 an Important Bird Area in 2004," Dunkerley said. "This SGL has several
 wetlands that provide excellent habitat for eagles, and are some of the key
 areas where people have reported seeing it."
     Northampton County WCO Brad Kreider reported that the bald eagles have
 returned to the same pine tree nesting site as 2006, along the Delaware
     "This is the first time in four years that the eagles have used the
 same nest, and they already are sitting on eggs," WCO Kreider said.
     Berks County WCO Dave Brockmeier has confirmed eagle-nesting activity
 in his district. "Both mature birds have been at the nest, and I am hopeful
 for another successful year," he said.
     The eagle nest at the Game Commission's Middle Creek Wildlife
 Management Area, however, hasn't reported any incubating activity at this
 point. But, as LMGS Jim Binder noted, this particular nest tends to get a
 later start than most.
     "The pair has been rebuilding its nest, however, we have not recorded
 any incubation at this point," Binder said. "In the last three years,
 incubation began as late as March 29. Last year, the nest did not produce
 any young, which raises the concern about fertility in this pair."
     Northumberland County WCO Rick A. Deiterich reported that, while
 crossing the Danville/Riverside Bridge, he happened to see two mature bald
 eagles flying just 20 feet above the bridge deck.
     "Each eagle was carrying a Canada goose in its talons," WCO Deiterich
 said. "You can't really appreciate the actual size of an eagle until you
 see one with a full-size goose in its talons. Although the eagles were
 struggling to gain altitude with the heavy weight in tow, both were last
 seen heading downstream."
     Northeast Region Federal Aid Supervisor Peter F. Sussenbach, who
 previously served as a WCO in Monroe County, noted that a new bald eagle
 nest was discovered just a few years ago in his former district.
     "The first nest documented in recent times in Monroe County was not
 found on one of our large lakes or streams, but on a relatively small
 mountain stream," Sussenbach said. "With this new nest in a rather unusual
 location, the possibilities seem endless for suitable nesting areas
 throughout the Poconos."
     Other positive news for bald eagles in Pennsylvania was announced in
 early-January, when the Game Commission's annual midwinter eagle survey of
 Raystown Lake in Huntingdon County produced the largest number of birds
 sighted since the survey began in 1990. The team documented a total of 14
 birds on a 110-mile trip around the shores of the largest lake totally
 within Pennsylvania's borders.
     "We documented, perhaps, three distinct family units, which are adult
 eagles accompanied by fledglings of the previous year," said Southcentral
 Region Land Management Group Supervisor Rob Criswell, who was part of the
 agency's survey team.
     "Years ago when we went on this survey, any bald eagles we saw were
 often specks in the sky escaping over ridges or birds that flushed a
 quarter of a mile in front of us," added Southcentral Region Information
 and Education Supervisor Don Garner, another survey team member. "This year
 it was amazing how close we got to them, and several of the eagles never
 left their perch when we traveled by. They are clearly acclimating to boat
 traffic on the lake."
     Southcentral Region Wildlife Management Supervisor Justin Vreeland
 noted that only in recent years have eagle numbers begun to climb.
     "In 1990, the first year of the survey, two eagles were logged in on
 Raystown," Vreeland said. "The lowest years were 1992 and 1996, when only
 one was seen. In 2001, there were eight, and last year 13. Of course
 weather and several other factors will make these numbers vary from year to
 year. But, the trend is very positive."
     "If you are old enough to read this, then you are old enough to
 remember when a bald eagle was something seen in a magazine article or TV
 documentary, but never in the wild," said Huntingdon County WCO Richard
 Danley, another survey team member. "We saw one directly across from the
 Aitch boat launch, and the best place to go to get a glimpse of one is
 probably around the dam and spillway. But, they are out there."
     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.
 The effort dovetailed with important gains made in improving water quality,
 which led to increases in the quality and quantity of freshwater fish, a
 staple in the eagle's diet. 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. In June of 2006, there were at
 least 116 active nesting pairs (99 confirmed in 2005), and an additional 20
 pairs appeared to have established territories, which typically is a
 prerequisite task to nest-building. Last year, new nests were confirmed in
 Bucks, Columbia, Fulton and Sullivan counties. Field staff also received
 reports of new nests in Adams, Lawrence, Luzerne, Mercer, Montour and Wayne
     The bald eagle is listed as a "threatened species" by the federal
 government and Pennsylvania. Bald eagles were upgraded from "endangered" to
 "threatened" nationally in 1995; the Pennsylvania Board of Game
 Commissioners upgraded them on Oct. 4, 2005. The USFWS recently closed a
 public comment period to remove the bald eagle from federal threatened
 species list. However, bald eagles still would be protected by the Bald
 Eagle Protection Act and other federal and state laws, even if it is
     "The best scientific and commercial data available indicates that the
 bald eagle has recovered," the USFWS 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."
     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 bald eagle's 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 bird's eggs so brittle, they broke when sat
     Rachel Carson wrote in Silent Spring, "The history of life on earth has
 been a history of interaction between living things and their
 surroundings." She referred to the interdependencies -that often aren't
 easy to identify or interpret - of organisms on each other and the
 environment. When America was sprayed and dusted repeatedly and for decades
 with DDT, the environment was slowly loaded with toxins that eventually
 devastated the very existence of eagles and many other creatures that had
 thrived for centuries. Without emergency and sustained special assistance
 from wildlife conservation agencies, bald eagles would have been goners.
     "Given their plight, magnificent appearance and historical
 significance, bald eagles have certainly captured the hearts and
 imaginations of Pennsylvanians," said Doug Gross, Game Commission
 ornithologist. "Some observers have adopted nests for watching, keeping an
 eye on the eagles and for any threats to the nest. We frequently receive
 phone calls and emails from excited individuals who just saw their first
 bald eagle in the wild. We also hear from anglers, canoeists and birders
 who are taking the time to report what they believe is a new bald eagle
 nest or active nesting pair. We sincerely appreciate this assistance. After
 all, we cannot provide eagles with the special attention they sometimes
 require if we don't know where their nest is located."
     Gross noted that eagles still are not nesting on some of their more
 historic nesting grounds, such as Presque Isle and the Susquehanna River's
 West Branch, but they surely have experienced a resurgence that has filled
 a long, noticeable void in Pennsylvania's wildlife community. If their
 progress continues, bald eagles one day likely will inhabit every major
 waterway and impoundment in the Commonwealth.
     "Bald eagles are moving into a lot of new places, particularly along
 the North Branch of the Susquehanna River," explained Gross. "I believe
 we're missing some established nests there and at remote municipal
 reservoirs, along steep mountainsides and river banks and on islands
 elsewhere in the state. In fact, I suspect we're missing one on a
 Susquehanna River island near Harrisburg."
     The state's largest concentrations of bald eagles are found in three
 geographic areas: the expansive wetlands of Crawford, Mercer and Erie
 counties; along the lower Susquehanna River and its tributaries in Chester,
 Lancaster and York counties; and the Poconos and Upper Delaware River
 region. For years, Crawford County - particularly the Pymatuning region -
 had represented the state's last stand for and largest concentration of
 bald eagles. This year, Crawford has at least 14 active nests (14 in 2005);
 lower Susquehanna River, 20 (16). In the Poconos, there are 21 nests (15).
     To learn more about bald eagles and other threatened and endangered
 species, visit the Game Commission's website (,
 click on "Wildlife" in the left column, then select "Endangered and
 Threatened Species," and choose "Bald Eagle" in the list of "Threatened
     Created in 1895 as an independent state agency, the Game Commission is
 responsible for conserving and managing all wild birds and mammals in the
 Commonwealth, establishing hunting seasons and bag limits, enforcing
 hunting and trapping laws, and managing habitat on the 1.4 million acres of
 State Game Lands it has purchased over the years with hunting and furtaking
 license dollars to safeguard wildlife habitat. The agency also conducts
 numerous wildlife conservation programs for schools, civic organizations
 and sportsmen's clubs.
     The Game Commission does not receive any general state taxpayer dollars
 for its annual operating budget. The agency is funded by license sales
 revenues; the state's share of the federal Pittman-Robertson program, which
 is an excise tax collected through the sale of sporting arms and
 ammunition; and monies from the sale of oil, gas, coal, timber and minerals
 derived from State Game Lands.
     NOTE: A photo to accompany the following article is available from the
 Game Commission's website ( by clicking on
 "Release #032-07."
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SOURCE Pennsylvania Game Commission