ShareThis Page

Leechburg elementary eagle-watchers make 'NBC Nightly News'

| Wednesday, April 2, 2014, 7:41 a.m.
Courtesy Pix Controller
The third Hays eaglet was expected to hatch Tuesday.

Those watching the Pittsburgh Hays bald eagle's nest in anticipation of the clutch's final hatch on Tuesday missed Leechburg Area elementary students on national television for the same thing.

Debbi Young's fifth-grade class at David Leech Elementary was showcased by NBC Nightly News on Tuesday for their study of the historic nest. The three-egg nesting is the second for the eagles, which last year became the first to successfully breed in the city in more than 150 years.

Young's class has been viewing the nest through an interactive smart board since December. In that time, they've witnessed the eagles lay eggs, fend off multiple predators and feed two eaglets. The third and final is expected to hatch any time now.

All of this has been made possible by a live webcam set up in December by the Pennsylvania Game Commission and PixController Inc, a Murrysville company that specializes in outdoor camera systems. Trib Total Media, parent company of the Tribune-Review, has been streaming the feed on its website since February.

On Thursday, Trib Total Media hosted a Q-and-A forum with the local Audubon Society, which sets out to connect people in western Pennsylvania to birds and nature through projects and programs.

Among the 450 or so visitors for the forum was Young's class. Their question was not only met with a prompt response from the Audubon Society, but earned them a spot on prime-time television.

Jim Bonner, the local Audubon Society director, said NBC contacted him Tuesday afternoon to source its feature on the resurgence of bald eagles in western Pennsylvania. He remembered the Leechburg Area students from the Trib's forum, he said, and put the news crew in contact with David Leech Elementary officials.

“That's what's so great about the webcam,” Bonner said. “It's a great way to address people through new platforms. It allows us to connect people and grow our message.”

The news crew on Tuesday was met by some students with disbelief.

“I thought it was an April Fool's joke,” said Gabriella Yerjevich, 11. “I think all the other kids were jealous. They didn't know why we got to be on the news.”

Young's class got to be on the news because the fifth-grade teacher's use of the eagle cam has resonated with her students. She's using the eagles as a learning tool for a unit on environmental study. The bald eagles' resurgence, she teaches her students, is a positive indicator that Pittsburgh's environment is clearing up after decades of industrialization.

Some students like McKenna Pierce, however, are more intrigued by the biological aspects of the study. The 20-minute daily glimpse into the eagles' lives, she said, has been an eye-opening experience.

“My favorite part was when they fought off the raccoon that attacked the nest,” said Pierce, 11. “I didn't know that happened. It was also cool when we saw the bird hatch on Friday.”

Young said the students had just finished their PSSA testing and were watching the eagle cam when the second eaglet hatched. It was “pandemonium,” she said, with all of the students screaming and gathered around the screen to witness the hatch.

Bill Powers, CEO of PixController, said elementary schools from Texas to New Jersey have been among the 1 million viewers that the company expects to hit sometime Wednesday. The company's goal, he said, is largely focused on educating classrooms at any level — an idea the Audubon Society can appreciate.

“That's what it's all about,” Bonner said. “We've been thrilled with how many people have been about the eagles. It's crossed all demographics, and the questions on Friday were great.”

Young's class asked the Audubon Society what the eagles would do with the third egg if it doesn't hatch.

The response was blunt: “It would be discarded.”

Braden Ashe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4673 or

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.