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Colfax school students to name Harmar's eagles

Mary Ann Thomas
| Wednesday, April 24, 2013, 7:18 a.m.

When 11-year-old Levi Baer watched a pair of courting bald eagles soar from a playground in Harmar, he thought the birds should have names.

Baer, a Harmar fifth-grader at Colfax Upper Elementary, has inspired a contest for other students to come up with names for the two bald eagles, which attempted to nest on a ridge above Route 28 in Harmar this spring.

The Harmar birds are among three pairs of state-threatened bald eagles that are nesting in Allegheny County, something not seen in at least 200 years. The others have a nest in Crescent Township, which fledged one eaglet last year, and a new nest in the Hays section of Pittsburgh, where eaglets hatched last week.

Baer said that he was amazed at how large the birds were — with their 7-foot wing spans — when he first saw them earlier this year.

“When I saw them and when I came home, I thought to myself that zoo animals have names, we name our pets. So, we can name the eagles?” Baer said.

The Allegheny Valley School District contacted the Audubon Society with the idea, according to Rachel Handel, spokeswoman for the local chapter's headquarters at Beechwood Farms in Fox Chapel.

“We thought that it was a great idea and would be fun,” Handel said.

“Having names for the birds helps people to form a connection with the animals,” she said. “And giving them names does not imply that the birds have qualities similar to humans; it just helps people form a stronger connection to nature.”

However, it will be impossible to know which bird is male or female, as both look exactly the same.

The contest just adds to the Colfax Upper Elementary School's environmental studies, according to Assistant Elementary Principal Jennifer Vecchio.

“This contest is a true honor to make our fifth-grade student's vision a reality,” she said.

No eggs in Harmar

It looks likes the Harmar eagles have not laid eggs, according to officials from the Pennsylvania Game Commission and the Audubon Society.

They're expected to stay through the summer and try to nest again next year, according to Brian Shema, operations director at the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania.

They just won't be spending a lot of time at the nesting site above the bustle of Route 28, according to Sherma.

“And there's a good chance they will re-establish their nest next year in the Harmar area — possibly the same site.”

One of the eagles — and experts aren't sure if it is the male or female — is too young to successfully nest to raise young, according to local bird experts. They say that adult bird's snowy white head and tail are interrupted by some brown feathers, which are plumage sported by immature eagles.

A pair of red-tailed hawks harassed the eagle pair, trying to reclaim the nest that the hawks built last year. But the eagles took over the red-tailed hawk nest above Route 28 several months ago, conspicuously carrying long branches to build up the nest.

“These birds were going through the motions, defending the territory, doing their courtship thing, and strengthening their pair bond,” Shema said.

But it's likely too late in the year for the birds to lay eggs, according to Shema.

“Their hormones have probably dropped off and they are probably not in the nesting mood,” he said.

Mary Ann Thomas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4691 or

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