Bald Eagle at Codorus State Park.
Bald Eagle at Codorus State Park. (Deb Kline photo)

Call it a comeback.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission reported this week the state's bald eagle population has reached new heights.

Several nests and birds have been spotted in York County, further proving efforts to restore the endangered species have been successful, said Karen Lippy, president of the Codorus Bird Club.

"Anytime you see one flying is exciting. It never gets boring. They're a national symbol," she said.

About 30 years ago, the national symbol's future in Pennsylvania seemed nonexistent after the bald eagle population was killed off by the effects of pesticides and water pollution.

But in 1983 the Game Commission launched a restoration program, transporting young eaglets from Canada to Pennsylvania.

At least one of the seven nests was placed along the Susquehanna River near Harrisburg, according to the Game Commission.

Now, there are at least 40 nests along the river, according to Michael Helfrich, Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper and York City councilman.

"Ever since the bald eagles started coming back, the population has been steadily growing here," he said. "I've seen bald eagles along the Susquehanna in every spot along York County, from New Cumberland to past the Holtwood Dam and everywhere in between."

The birds can usually be spotted near the dam because the hydroelectric turbines sometimes chew up the fish and make an easy meal for the eagles, Helfrich said.

Bald eagle nests can also be found along Long Level and in Springettsbury Township by the Codorus Creek, he said.

Nests have also been reported at Lake Williams and in Codorus State Park, Lippy said.

Eagles and eaglets can often be spotted flying around the marina at the state park, she said.

"They like it there because it's a deep-water lake with lots of fish. They'll also fly from there down to the Chesapeake Bay and back, which is a short trip for an eagle," Lippy said.

Karen Lippy watching Bald Eagles at Codorus State Park.
Karen Lippy watching Bald Eagles at Codorus State Park. (Deb Kline photo)

Keep your distance: While watching them fly is OK, the Game Commission advises observers to keep a safe distance.

Disturbing eagles is illegal, according to the federal Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, and some pairs are more tolerant of human activity than others.

"Where there is regular public access and established viewing areas, some pairs can be very tolerant if visitors are predictable and nonthreatening," said Patti Barber, a Game Commission biologist. "But when someone sneaks to the base of a nest tree, most eagles become alarmed."

There have been cases where people purposefully disturbed nests to get pictures of eagles in flight, which is illegal and could kill unhatched or recently hatched birds, she said.

It could also cause adults to abandon the nests or frighten eaglets to jump from the nests. In both cases, the young birds would likely die, Barber said.

"For the sake of eagles, use your binoculars or a spotting scope. They are, after all, still on the comeback trail from being an endangered species," she said.

Still threatened: Though the population grows stronger each year, bald eagles remain classified as a threatened species statewide, according to the Game Commission.

This year, 252 eagle nests have been confirmed throughout the state, with nesting eagles present in 56 of the commonwealth's 67 counties, according to the commission.

A year ago, the commission reported the national bird had 206 nests in 51 counties.

"We're to the point in Pennsylvania where the bald eagle's success is something that's expected," said Carl Roe, Game Commission executive director. "Year after year, their numbers grow. Year after year, their range grows broader. There's no better story to tell and retell every Fourth of July."

- Candy Woodall can also be reached at cwoodall@yorkdispatch.com.