Hays bald eagles await first hatching

Mary Ann Thomas
| Wednesday, March 26, 2014, 7:29 a.m.

The first chick of the season for the bald eagle pair in Pittsburgh's Hays neighborhood is expected to hatch Wednesday.

Eagle fever continues to soar as “pip watch” is on with viewers waiting for the first eagle chick to “pip,” or break through, its egg shell. The chick uses a special egg tooth — a bump on its beak — to break through the egg.

This is the second nesting of the bald eagle in the City of Pittsburgh in more than 150 years, according to wildlife experts. Cleaner rivers, more fish and a recovering population of the once endangered bird continues to push up numbers of nesting birds in the state and the country.

Last year, one eaglet fledged from the nest, in the city's Hays section on a bluff above the Monongahela River. This year, the couple laid three eggs, which are expected to hatch within several days of each other.

The eagle parents are hot — with viewership of the live eagle camera tripling in the last several days to more than 3,000 people watching at one time, according to Bill Powers, CEO of Pix Controller, which along with the Pennsylvania Game Commission, set up the webcam.

The Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania reports that thousands of people have been visiting its eagle Facebook page.

“Interest in the Hays eagles cuts across all people and has resulted in an outpouring of other bird reports,” said Jim Bonner, executive director of the local Audubon Society.

But how much action viewers will get to see in the next few days is questionable, because the eagles will still sit tight on their nest to brood their remaining eggs and keep a newly hatched chick warm, according to Patricia Barber, the endangered bird biologist for the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

“The chick will start to make noise in the egg, so sometimes you will see the adult look underneath them,” Barber said “It's subtle, but you might be able to notice.”

The webcam's microphone is not expected to pick up the peeping of a soon-to-be hatched chicks because it might be too far away, according to Powers.

While still inside the egg, the chick will poke a small hole about two-thirds of the way up the side and then chip around in a small circle for the top of the egg to come off, according to Audubon Society naturalists.

The parents will not help the chicks hatch, Barber said.

“They will look at the hatching egg pretty quickly and sometimes remove a part of the egg shell,” she said.

The newly hatched bird is extremely vulnerable because it cannot warm nor cool its body for about 20 days. It needs that blanket of protection from its brooding parents to survive.

“The chicks are wet, and if it's cold, they could really get chilled,” Barber said. “That's why the adult has to get back on their nest to keep the chicks toasty warm.”

Conversely, if it's too hot, the heat could kill the birds without a parent brooding over them.

“That's why nesting will fail if something disturbs the parents or if the parents are flushed from the nest,” Barber said. “The young could freeze to death or get overheated.”

Initially, the chicks won't take a lot of food, according to Barber. But after the hatch, their need for food will increase daily.

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