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Eaglets in Harmar, Hays nests appear on webcam

| Thursday, April 20, 2017, 11:35 p.m.
Courtesy of Rachel Handel
An eaglet in the Harmar bald eagle nest pokes it head up while one of the adults tends to nesting duties on Thursday, April 20, 2017. Although experts knew both the Harmar and Pittsburgh Hays eagles successfully hatched offspring this year, this is the first time an eaglet was seen on camera.

Recent photos of those gray, fuzzy heads bobbing above the sight line of the bald eagle nests in Harmar and Pittsburgh's Hays neighborhood confirm the progeny of the region's most-watched raptors.

The Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania confirmed Thursday there are two young eaglets at the Harmar nest and one at the Hays nest, according to a webcam feed at Harmar and photographs from local eagle watchers.

It's not been a good year for live webcams. But eagle fans can expect much better glimpses into the lives of these formerly endangered birds next year.

Professional and amateur naturalists alike haven't been able to see inside the nests to spot eggs, which are a bit smaller than a tennis ball. They have had to rely on spotting the behavior of the parent birds incubating or feeding something deep in the nest bowl.

The Hays camera is much farther away from a new eagle nest, which the birds hastily built after a windstorm toppled their nest tree in February.

In Harmar, the camera view is better, but it's still a distance away and partially obstructed by the branches of the sprawling sycamore where the birds built their nest.

“Next year, we'll have better views than we had before,” said Bill Powers, president of PixController, the Murrysville company that provides the cameras and setup for webcam streaming.

Powers is working to help provide tighter shots of the birds as well as pan-tilt-zoom cameras for wide environmental portraits. He hopes to capture the parent eagles, who often will perch just outside of the nest to keep an eye on the youngsters.

Jim Bonner, executive director of the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania, said the camera technology just keeps getting better and expects to reposition the camera next year.

Because bald eagles raise young in the same nest year after year — with some weighing more than a ton — sometimes the camera angles can be tweaked.

“The birds will continue to nest here,” Bonner said. “They had success with their young this year, and that's a sign they will continue to stay.”

Once the chicks fledge the nest, expected in June or July, they'll hang around with their parents, mooching food and honing their hunting skills.

Although the Hays webcam is a distance from the nest, Powers plans to keep the live feed going through the summer to try to capture views of the young eaglet and parents outside of the nest.

But come August and September, Audubon and PixController will visit the nests and explore their options. That's when they would send a tree climber to mount a smaller camera in the Harmar nest tree.

There will be more work at the Hays site since the birds' had to rebuild their nest on a different portion of the same hill.

Since the Hays site is high on a remote wooded hillside, PixController will have to move its power source — solar panels and batteries — and maybe run longer cables, according to Powers.

All work will be completed by the end of the year just prior to the birds breeding season.

Mary Ann Thomas is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-226-4691 or mthomas@tribweb.com.

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