Hays bald eagles are expecting

Mary Ann Thomas
| Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, 5:07 p.m.

A pair of bald eagles in Pittsburgh had an “egg-ceptional” day Wednesday as the female laid her first egg in the couple's nest.

The pair, nesting on a bluff above the Monongahela River in Hays, are the first bald eagles to nest in the City of Pittsburgh for at least 150 years, according to state and local ornithologists.

Cleaner waterways with an abundance of fish and a growing state eagle population account for our national bird returning to the once smoky city, according to Patricia Barber, endangered bird biologist with the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

The pair could produce up to three eggs requiring constant incubation for 35 days. The egg that was laid Wednesday at 4:45 p.m. is expected to hatch around March 26.

Eagle fever erupted throughout the region as the celebrated Hays pair consummated successfully for a second year. One eaglet fledged the Hays nest last year, the pair's first at the nest.

Jim Bonner from the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania confirmed the nesting Wednesday while viewing a “nest cam” installed by the Pennsylvania Game Commission and PixController of Murrysville in December.

Staff at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh cheered.

“There was much excitement, collective joy and anticipation,” said Robin Weber, aviary spokeswoman.

Bill Powers, president of PixController of Murrysville, witnessed the egg laying.

“This is just amazing to have this happen in Pittsburgh and to catch it live on the cam,” Powers said. “It's one of the most amazing things I've ever seen.”

Nest activity increased

Birdwatcher Ron Bires of Swissvale has been monitoring the Hays pair for both nesting seasons on behalf of the game commission and the aviary.

Bires said he noticed the birds were spending more time at the nest in the past few days.

“They have been eating in the nest a lot,” said Bires, who noted a recent menu of rabbit and the wing of a seagull.

Reports of eagles mating as early as last month fueled speculation that eggs could appear any day now.

The eagle pair in Harmar has been seen daily at its nest site above Route 28.

“There's a lot of variation in the timing of egg-laying,” said the game commission's Barber.

Although people have seen the two eagle pairs engaged in amorous behavior early in the season, that doesn't mean that the female will immediately produce eggs.

“Just because they copulate, it doesn't mean it works every time, just like us,” Bonner said.

Generally, bald eagles lay their eggs from mid-February to mid-March in Pennsylvania, according to game commission research.

More experienced, older eagle pairs will nest earlier, Barber said.

In fact, there is an established eagle couple that has been incubating eggs since Jan. 30 in a nest along the Susquehanna River, Northumberland County, she said.

The recent spate of cold weather had likely moved nesting schedules back, according to Barber.

When above-freezing temperatures broke in Pittsburgh on Tuesday and Wednesday, Bires was expecting the Hays pair to lay an egg.

Harmar's eagles active, too

The Harmar eagles are behind the Hays' eagles in their nesting, but they are in the running.

The Harmar birds have been bringing sticks to their nest above Route 28 during the last two weeks, according to Bonner.

They will later line the interior with soft grasses and likely lay eggs in March, he said.

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

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