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Bald eagle population soaring in Pennsylvania

One national symbol is reaching new records this Independence Day.

The bald-eagle population in Pennsylvania is soaring, state Game Commission data released this week shows.

In its annual mid-year count, 254 bald-eagle nests were documented in Pennsylvania, the commission said. That number is a record for the yearly pre-Fourth of July tally, and is expected to grow as more nests are counted in the coming months.

Nesting eagles were found in 59 of the state's 67 counties, also a record, officials said.

"Pennsylvania continues to sustain a healthy and growing bald-eagle population, and the fact eagles are branching out to more areas of the sate indicates there are more gains to come," Patti Barber, a biologist with the commission's endangered and nongame birds section, said in a statement.

The numbers are a small uptick from the eagles recorded at this time last year: The July 2013 count documented 252 nests in 57 counties.

But the bird's population in Pennsylvania has soared over the past three decades.

In 1983, there were just three bald-eagle nests in the state, all in Crawford County. Water pollution, persecution and pesticides had all contributed to the animal's decline, according to the Game Commission.

That year, state officials launched a program to restore the bald eagle's population. In 1998, 25 pairs of nesting eagles were counted in the state. That number climbed to 100 nests in 2006, and has continued to grow since then.

The bird was removed from the state's list of threatened species in January.