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South Williamsport, PA
United States

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Too Many to Count?

Too Many to Count?
Ken’s painting of a bald eagle on the Susquehanna

I recently read an article in an outdoor publication that said there are so many eagles nesting in Pennsylvania that it is becoming too difficult for the Pennsylvania Game Commission to come up with an accurate count. I’m sure that 30 years ago that is news we never would have expected to hear but the

I recently read an article in an outdoor publication that said there are so many eagles nesting in Pennsylvania that it is becoming too difficult for the Pennsylvania Game Commission to come up with an accurate count. I’m sure that 30 years ago that is news we never would have expected to hear but the truth is bald eagles are doing quite well in our state.

I still hear a good number of people say that they rarely ever see a bald eagle but it’s real simple-all you have to do is look and you will see. Without exaggerating I would guess I probably spot at least one or more eagles every two or three weeks that pass. Some weeks I will see three or four over a few day period and I’m not going out of my way to find them. It’s very common to be sitting at my “branch office” at Dunkin sipping a coffee and see one or two eagles gliding down Muncy Creek. Last week I watched one soaring over the intersection at Wal-Mart.

The picture hasn’t always been that bright however; in 1983 there were only three nesting pairs of eagles in the entire state of Pennsylvania. It was at that point that the PGC launched a seven-year restoration program to restore eagles by obtaining eagles from Saskatchewan, Canada. From 1983 to 1989, 88 eagles were brought into our state and released and monitored and it was this “hacking” process that lead to the remarkable recovery that we are witnessing today.

Just how successful has the eagle recovery been? Three nesting pairs in 1983 and in 2015 there were 304 nesting pairs counted-looks pretty good to me. Over the last few years those numbers have surely grown even more; so much so that the PGC is seeking public help in locating and tracking new nesting sites.

An eagle’s nest is composed of branches, twigs, cornstalks, grass, moss, and weeds and can be up to five feet wide and two feet deep. They often use the same nest year after year. Early on, eagles preferred nesting near large bodies of water like the Susquehanna River but newer observations reveal that they are now also nesting on smaller bodies of water and lakes and even closer to people than before.

Since an eagle’s diet consists of about 60-90 percent fish so it stands that they would prefer nesting near large bodies of water but eagles will also eat birds, small mammals, reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates. A couple years previous a neighbor pointed out a bald eagle feeding on a dead dear not far from their home. On a couple of occasions this past winter I watched eagles swoop down and pick small fish off the ice only yards from where we were ice fishing. I believe the eagles are now equating all those fishermen on the ice to some good mid-winter meals.

The PGC is now asking the public to report new nest sightings with an online tool developed for smartphones and laptops. Be aware however that eagles are a protected species even though they were delisted federally under the Endangered Species Act. It is illegal to kill or posses a Bald Eagle or a Golden Eagle. Be advised that you should not approach too close to an active eagle’s nest and in fact, federal regulations prohibit any intrusion within 660 (I have no idea how they came up with that number) feet of a nest.

Keep your eyes open, the eagles are among us.

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