Eagle numbers soaring in Armstrong County

| Monday, March 24, 2014, 1:30 p.m.

There are as many bald eagles in Crooked Creek Park in Manor now as there were statewide only 30 years ago.

“We see them flying around on a daily basis, which is enough to give me hope more are nesting here,” said Park Ranger Emily Potter. “It's wonderful to see the bald eagles making a good comeback.”

Bald eagles are making a comeback in Armstrong County and across Pennsylvania. The population has grown from about 10 statewide in the 1980s to more than 1,000 in 2014, according to Dan Brauning, a wildlife biologist for the Pennsylvania Game Commission. The species was removed from the state's endangered list in January.

There are an estimated 24 eagles at three sites in Armstrong County — Crooked Creek, along the Allegheny River in Washington Township and at Keystone Lake in Cowanshannock.

“There's really no way to track exactly how many there are in a certain area,” Brauning said. “What we can guarantee, though, is at least two mature eagles are at every nesting site.”

Statewide, bald eagles can be found in 61 of 67 counties.

During the 1980s, Crawford County, with three active nests, was the only region in the state documented to have bald eagles. The Game Commission began a reintroduction program to bring the birds back in 1983, and their numbers have steadily grown since then.

The Game Commission reported 271 active nests in the state in 2013, which produced about 300 baby eagles.

“If there's a bald eagle's nest found, we're going to hear about it,” Brauning said. “We don't always hear about it right away because the birds tend to tuck their nests away, but within a year or so, we usually find their locations.”

Brauning attributes the comeback to clean water supplies that bolstered a healthy fish population — a source of food for eagles. He also said a ban of the pesticide DDT, which caused the bald eagle's egg shells to become thin and frail, allowed the population to thrive.

“The evidence is pretty strong that the environmental progress in the state allowed them to nest successfully,” Brauning said. “That, coupled with the federal and state endangered species protection, made it possible for them to re-find their place in our region.”

Brauning said officials document about 40 new bald eagle nests across the state each year, showing a steady population growth of about 15 percent annually. And Armstrong County offers plenty of good sites for the birds to choose from.

“There's some major, prime space available along the Allegheny River for eagles to nest,” Brauning said. “The river wanders pretty nicely through the center of the county, in some wide open spaces, which is where you typically see bald eagles.”

And looking for a glimpse of the majestic bird is something more people in the area seem to be doing.

“The bald eagle is our nation's symbol and is a strong, high-profile bird, so there is a lot of interest from the public,” Brauning said. “The future is bright for bald eagles in Pennsylvania.”

Brad Pedersen is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-543-1303, ext. 1337, or bpedersen@tribweb.com.

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