At its midway point, there's already reason to believe 2014 just might go down as the "Year of the Pennsylvania Bald Eagle."
In January, the Pennsylvania Game Commission removed the bald eagle from the state's list of threatened species, capping a 30-year comeback that ranks as one of the great success stories in wildlife-conservation history.
And in the months that followed, more than 3 million viewers joined in the celebration, watching online as three bald eaglets hatched, then developed into birds strong enough to fledge the Pittsburgh nest in which they grew up.
Now, the Pennsylvania Game Commission reports its mid-year inventory of bald-eagle nests yet again boasts a record total.
Each year, just before the Fourth of July, the Game Commission releases a preliminary count of bald-eagle nests statewide. The report serves to celebrate the bald eagle our national symbol of strength and freedom as well as the terrific progress the species has made in Pennsylvania since the onset of a reintroduction program in 1983.
So far this year, 254 bald-eagle nests have been documented in Pennsylvania, with nesting eagles present in at least 59 of the state's 67 counties.
The number of nests and the number of counties with nests both are all-time highs for the mid-year report, according to the Game Commission.
Game Commission Executive Director R. Matthew Hough said the report, once again, rewrites that final chapter in the story of the bald eagle's recovery in Pennsylvania. While the report provides only preliminary data, and still more nests will be documented as the year goes on, the results are heart-warming, he said.
"The all-time high numbers illustrate Pennsylvania's bald-eagle population is better than ever," Hough said. "But these are only the ones we know about. There are more.
"Over my career with the Game Commission, I have watched this agency jump-start eagle recovery in 1983, and now I'm seeing the results of all that hard work," Hough said. "I, and I'm sure all Pennsylvanians, are proud of this amazing recovery. More importantly, more of us are seeing eagles than ever before. That never gets old. They're such exciting birds."
Twenty-two of the 254 nests reported so far this year are attributed to adult pairs that have not previously been documented as nesting in Pennsylvania.
That's a significant number given that the total number of nests documented 254 is up only slightly compared to the 2013 mid-year report, which totaled 252 nests by July 4. The fact the number of counties with active nests increased from 57 to 59 between the 2013 and 2014 mid-year reports also speaks to potential expansion in the bald-eagle population, said Patti Barber, a biologist with the Game Commission's Endangered and Nongame Birds section.
Barber said as bald eagles become more common, the challenge to document their nests could grow. People who have reported a nest as active in a previous year might not realize they should report back each year to help the commission track the population over time, she said.