While Pennsylvanians celebrate the Fourth of July this week, they might also want to celebrate the growing population of America’s national symbol — the bald eagle.
According to the Game Commission, there are currently 252 bald eagle nests in the state, 46 more than last year.
“I think it says a lot about the state’s efforts not only to see the number of bald eagles increase as it has, but also to see that population spread out into new areas and follow those watercourses they traditionally inhabited,” said commission spokesman Travis Lau.
One such area is Pittsburgh, which is now home to two bald eagle nests.
But only 30 years ago, bald eagles almost stopped soaring across Pennsylvania’s skies completely.
Lau said DDT organochlorine pesticides nearly wiped out the bald eagle population nationwide.
“When those pesticides were banned and when, nationally, efforts to restore populations or save eagle populations were put into place and restoration efforts like ours and other states followed that, the birds strongly rebounded,” Lau said.
In 1983, the Game Commission obtained eaglets from wild nests in Saskatchewan, Canada, as part of a seven-year restoration program.
The seven-week-old eaglets were raised by humans and released into the wild.
By 1998, there were 25 pairs of nesting eagles in Pennsylvania, and they were taken off the state’s endangered list by 2005.
Lau said Pennsylvania has enough habitats to continually support the bald eagle population growth.
“There’s a lot of room along those watercourses that’s absolutely ideal eagle habitat that’s not being taken up now, even with 252 nests at this point statewide, so we think that there’s a lot of room for that population to grow,” Lau said.
The Game Commission wants to remind people that disturbing eagles is illegal under the federal Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.
“The bald eagle is such a symbol of strength and freedom, and it’s the national bird," Lau said. "It’s obvious we’ve gotten a huge reaction just at the number of nests that we’re reporting this Fourth of July, people get really excited about bald eagles."
Even though the population of bald eagles continues to grow, they are still classified as a threatened species statewide.