Thirty years ago the sight of a bald eagle got people excited. In Pennsylvania, for example, only three nesting pairs were known in 1982. In the lower 48 states, there were probably fewer than 500 nesting pairs. Today bald eagles are back. It's no longer unusual to see a bald eagle. In fact, if you go to the right places, seeing eagles is almost a certainty.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission recently released information that parallels what has happened in other states. The number of active bald eagle nests this year is 206 in 51 of the state's 67 counties.
This number will almost certainly increase as reports trickle in through the summer. In 2011, for example, preliminary surveys reported 203 nests, but the final total was 217. Eagle nests in wild, remote terrain can be difficult to locate.
So today seeing a bald eagle isn't the big deal it was 30 years ago -- unless it's your first. I get emails and letters every year from readers who have seen their first bald eagle, and their notes are peppered with adjectives such as "awesome, amazing, and magnificent."
Even Carl Roe, executive director of the Game Commission, is impressed. In a statement he says, "I can't imagine our outdoors without them. Their presence heightens every trip afield and a chance encounter with a passing bald eagle is almost always the highlight of anyone's day. Eagles are simply that unforgettable!"
I agree. I've seen bald eagles many times in many places. I even had one fly over my house about 20 years ago. And each time I see an eagle, I'm thrilled. And when I'm with a group, everyone thrills at the sight of an eagle. Pileated woodpeckers, bluebirds, and even scarlet tanagers get yawns when an eagle flies by.
With a wingspan of almost seven feet and weighing 10 pounds or more, bald eagles are huge and powerful, a fitting national symbol.
Though Pennsylvania's eagle nests are scattered around the state, they are most frequently found near big rivers and lakes. The counties with the most eagle nests this year are Crawford (21), Lancaster (19), York (10), and Erie (9). Even more encouraging is that eagle nests are showing up in urban areas. Allegheny County (Pittsburgh) has one nest this year and Philadelphia County has three.