Excitement mounts for return of Harmar eagles

Mary Ann Thomas
| Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014, 1:39 p.m.

By all indications, it's shaping up to be a great season for eagle nesting at three locations in Allegheny County, maybe more, according to state and local naturalists.

“It's unfolding as I thought,” said Bob Mulvihill, an ornithologist with the National Aviary in Pittsburgh. “I had no idea that the Hays eagles would stay in Pittsburgh all winter. And I expect the Harmar birds to return.”

The Hays eagles have built a second nest near the original one that partially collapsed this summer after the pair successfully reared its first young.

“They had a less-than-perfect site for their first attempt,” Mulvihill said. “But it did the job. They're experienced as a pair. And they quickly selected a new site nearby, so the birds like the territory. It provides good access to feeding, and they're not bothered by the noise.”

While all eyes are on the new Hays eagle nest, the eagles in Harmar might offer the best aerial shows and drama this spring.

Red-tailed hawks and the Harmar eagles provided spectacular aerial fights earlier this year after the hawks didn't take kindly to the eagles taking over their nest on a ridge above Route 28 in Harmar near the Hulton Bridge.

The Harmar eagles never followed through on nesting after adding a number of sticks and branches to the Harmar site, much to disappointment of local residents who watched the drama unfold.

“Assuming those bird are both healthy and alive, and based on typical bald eagle behavior, there's no reason to not believe they won't nest there again next year,” said Brian Shema, operations director of the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania at Beechwood Farms in Fox Chapel.

The Harmar pair were likely too young to follow through with nesting earlier this year, Shema said.

But 2014 looks like it could be the year for the Harmar birds.

Residents have been reporting seeing the Harmar eagles near the nest as recently as last week.

“Expect them to be adding material to the nest at the end of January,” said Jim Bonner, executive director of the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania. “It's hormonally driven. There will be pair-bonding rituals and later on the birds will switch from sticks to grasses to line the nest.”

Whatever plays out, residents will be watching the three eagle pairs in Allegheny County, including an established nest on private property in Crescent Township.

Audubon's Facebook page for the local bald eagles attracted more than 1 million page views earlier this year during nesting, Bonner added.

Mary Ann Thomas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at mthomas@tribweb.com and 724-226-4691.

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