Bald eagles in Pa. soar to new population high

Posted: July 08, 2013

Call it a comeback.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission reported last week that the state's bald eagle population has reached new heights, with more than 250 active nests.

Several nests and birds have been spotted in York County, proving that efforts to restore the endangered species have been successful, said Karen Lippy, president of the Codorus Bird Club.

"Any time you see one flying is exciting. It never gets boring. They're a national symbol," she said.

About 30 years ago, the national symbol's future in Pennsylvania seemed nonexistent. The bald eagle population had been devastated by the effects of pesticides and water pollution, and only three pairs were nesting in the state.

But in 1983 the Game Commission launched a restoration program, transporting young eaglets from Canada to Pennsylvania.

At least one of the seven nests was placed along the Susquehanna River near Harrisburg, according to the Game Commission.

Now, there are at least 40 nests along the river, according to Michael Helfrich, Lower Susquehanna riverkeeper and a York city councilman. "Ever since the bald eagles started coming back, the population has been steadily growing here," he said.

The birds can usually be spotted near the Conowingo dam because the hydroelectric turbines sometimes kill or injure fish, making an easy meal for the eagles, Helfrich said.

While watching the birds fly is OK, the Game Commission advises observers to keep a safe distance.

Disturbing eagles is illegal, according to the federal Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, and some pairs are more tolerant of human activity than others.

"Where there is regular public access and established viewing areas, some pairs can be very tolerant if visitors are predictable and nonthreatening," said Patti Barber, a Game Commission biologist. "But when someone sneaks to the base of a nest tree, most eagles become alarmed."

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