Bald eagles are now residents of the Wissahickon Park (Photo by Ruth Pfeffer).

by Joe Tressa

If you see a bald eagle flying around in Chestnut Hill, you’re not imagining it. The national bird of America has been spotted nesting in the Wissahickon Creek area, near the Valley Green Inn.

Northwest Philadelphia is not the only part of the state (or country) where bald eagles have been seen. The eagles have been spotted in other parts of Pennsylvania, and they have also been seen throughout other parts of the nation.

The eagles’ return comes shortly after they were officially removed from the federal list of threatened and endangered species in August of 2007. The return has been a long time coming, since the eagles were put on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s endangered list for the first time in 1967 and were officially classified as endangered in all fifty states in 1978.

Willow Grove resident Ruth Pfeffer, who is known for her bird walks and lectures, many of which are held in the Wissahickon, said she is thrilled to have some bald eagles nesting in the area.

“It is amazing to have the bald eagles return and be so plentiful throughout our state,” said Pfeffer. “It is so much fun to be with a group of birders and spot a bald eagle. The smiles appear on every face and the first spoken word is wow. The bald eagle has a magical effect on our spirits.”

Pfeffer, who claims bald eagles have also been spotted in Chester, Montgomery, and Bucks counties, says residents should soon see the bald eagle’s fledgings.

“We will begin to see the fledglings in our area soon,” she said. “They have a different plumage than their parents. It takes five years for an eagle to acquire itswhite head and feathers.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services have helped in the attempt to bring back America’s bird. They have prohibited the killing of any eagles; they have improved the quality of water in many lakes and rivers, and they have made an attempt to protect the nest sites of eagles.

Pfeffer also gives credit to The Pennsylvania Game Commission for playing a role in restoring the bald eagles’ population in Pennsylvania. According to Pfeffer, they began their attempt to restore the bald eagle population about 25 years ago.

Researchers from the state went to Saskatchewan, Canada, in order to remove a few eaglets from their nests and bring them back to Pennsylvania. These eaglets were brought back to the state and were housed in hacking towers where they were fed and taken care of. They were eventually released back into the wild, which gave them opportunities to mate and produce more eaglets.

This project has been credited with helping increase the bald eagle population in the state of Pennsylvania.

Bald Eagls first became endangered with widespread use of the harmful insecticide Dichloro-Diphenyl-Trichloroethane, better known as DDT, in the 1950s, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s website. The problem that DDT caused was that it affected the eagles’ reproduction, which caused failure in attempts to give birth to more eaglets. The eagles who were exposed to this chemical would lay thin-shelled eggs that would crack before the eaglets could hatch.

According to a report, the Environmental Protection Agency noticed this was a problem and it eventually banned the use of DDT in 1972. A second reason for the endangerment classification was the loss of habitat. Many forests were cleared, leaving the eagles with nowhere to nest.

The increase in population has taken some time, but the results of the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s Project have recently paid off. As of 2011, 217 bald eagle nests have been spotted in the state, according to the Game Commission’s website. This is a huge increase over time, as only three nests were known to exist in Pennsylvania in 1980. Also, many of these nests have produced eaglets.

From the years 2003 to 2011, more than 70 percent of nests produced eaglets. This is an outstanding number, and it gives more hope that the bald eagle population will flourish in years to come.

Also, the Game Commission has come up with a 10-year plan for the eagles. This plan will attempt to maintain the bald eagle population for the foreseeable future. The 52-page Bald Eagle Management Plan for Pennsylvania can be found on the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s website.

Persons who may come across bald eagles are cautioned to refrain from agitating them. It is best to observe the birds from a distance, preferably with binoculars. Loud noises and sudden movements will disturb the eagles, which may cause them to become dangerous.

So if you’re in the Wissahickon, keep an eye open for the Eagles. With the fledgings due, you may be even more likely to see the birds in the park.

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