Pennsylvania Game Commission biologists couldn’t be happier with this year’s surge in bald eagle numbers, nearly 30 years after an extensive program to bring the species back to the state. In 1983, only a handful of bald eagle nests were found in Pennsylvania. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, by July of this year the Game Commission reported at least 252 nests, with an unknown number of unconfirmed nests. The return of the bald eagle was made possible by funds from hunting licenses, revenue from Game Commission property, and taxes on hunting gear such as firearms and ammunition.

“Young are still fledging, and we’re still finding nests,” said Game Commission biologist Patti Barber.

It is a far cry from the dire straits the birds were in three decades ago. Bald eagle numbers had started to decline in the 1950s when the water from which they caught fish was contaminated with toxic chemicals, notably DDT. Consumption of fish with DDT in their system caused eagles to lay eggs with thinner, weaker shells. It devastated the local bald eagle population.

“To be honest, I didn’t think we would see bald eagles in this area again,” Game Commission Education Supervisor William Williams told the Associated Press. “It’s been an incredible recovery.”

It all began with a few dozen eaglets transported from places such as Saskatchewan, where eagle numbers were stable. Biologists raised these eagles in hacking sites beside the Susquehanna River and since the birds innately returned to nest near their fledgling sites, Pennsylvania’s eagle population rose. Biologists have found that some of the birds are even adjusting well to living closer to humans.

“Right now we have 16 active nests in the southeastern counties of Bucks, Chester, Philadelphia, Delaware, and Montgomery,” Barber said, “so eagles seem to be adapting to urban areas.”

Image courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

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