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Bald eagles on threshold of new status

| Monday, Aug. 19, 2013, 10:39 p.m.
A bald eagle catches a fish in the Des Moines River, Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013, in downtown Des Moines, Iowa. Pennsylvania's bald eagle population has seen tremendous growth in recent years.

Bald eagles soon may come off the list of threatened species in Pennsylvania.

Thirty years ago, there were only three nesting pairs of bald eagles in the state, all in Crawford County. This year there are 266, with the count growing. That's up from 237 last year.

At least three of those nests are located near Pittsburgh as the birds have continued their move into the southwestern corner of the state.

“Bald eagles are teaching us what bald eagle habitat looks like, and it's way more than we thought we had 30 years ago,” said Doug Gross, supervisor of the Pennsylvania Game Commission's endangered and nongame bird section.

The result is leading biologists to recommend eagles be upgraded from threatened to protected when the commission holds its next meeting in September in Delmont.

The state's eagle management plan long has called for removing the eagle from the threatened list if several criteria were met.

One measure was that eagles establish at least 150 active nests for five consecutive years. That's occurred every year since 2008, Gross said. Another was that eagles successfully nest in at least 40 counties for five years running. That's been the case since 2009, he said. A third was that at least 60 percent of nests successfully produce young; the average has been closer to 75 percent.

The plan also outlines one other measure: that eagle nests produce at least 1.2 young, on average. Whether that's occurring is difficult to say, Gross noted, as eagle nests often are hard to see.

But every indication is that eagles are doing well, he said.

“This has been a spectacular success,” Gross said.

“Those of us who have been around a long time have too often seen species added to the (threatened) list, but we rarely get to take one off,” said Cal DuBrock, director of the commission's bureau of wildlife management. “So it's nice to see recovery occur.”

The commission will continue looking for and counting eagle nests and monitoring their success through at least 2017. It will also continue looking for ways to engage the public as eagle watchers and volunteers, Gross said.

All the while, eagles could yet expand in reach and density across the state, executive director Carl Roe said.

“Pennsylvania has plenty of good bald-eagle habitat that's not currently being used by eagles. And as the years roll on, I'm sure eagles will give us plenty more to celebrate,” Roe said.

Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @bobfryeoutdoors.

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