Bald Eagle Nest at John Heinz NWR / Photo by Bill Buchanan (USFWS)
A pair of Bald Eagles have hatched chicks at John Heinz NWR (also known as "Tinicum") for the first time in the history of the refuge. Tinicum is the most urban refuge in the National Wildlife Refuge system, close to major highways, an international airport, and industrial sites. The presence of breeding eagles there is symbolic of the bird's resurgence across the country, even in urban areas. The Tinicum nest was one of two active eagle nests in Philadelphia this winter. The other may have failed.
Eagles' nests are in all seven of the region's suburban counties, and the urban eagles have been touted as even more dramatic proof of the species' comeback.Perhaps the Tinicum pair learned from last year's mistakes to build a successful nest this year. The eagle family may be helping with one of the refuge's management problems.
In 2007, a pair of eagles were discovered nesting in the Navy Yard - the first in the city in two centuries. Their nest failed then, but the next year one eaglet survived.
By 2009, they were gone - perhaps, like generations of suburbanites, to New Jersey, officials figured.
But by then the city was seeing eagle action aplenty elsewhere. Another pair built a nest near the Pennypack Creek in the Northeast, and two young survived.
Yet another nest was under construction that year at the Heinz refuge in Tinicum, but those eagles were like bumbling newlyweds, producing a clumsy, rickety nest. And there were no eggs.
This year, both pairs returned, one to Pennypack, the other to Tinicum, and laid eggs.
Refuge manager Gary Stolz said the eaglets were active. He has seen them stretching their tiny wings. Better yet, they're helping out.The nest at Tinicum is on an island, but visitors to the refuge can see it with binoculars from a safe viewing distance.
The refuge has had an ongoing problem with carp, an invasive fish that has turned out to be an eaglet delicacy.
"Besides being the gorgeous, magnificent birds that they are," Stolz said, "they're helping us remove problem fish and restore native species."