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Eaglets leaving the nest, but they're not yet ready to strike out on their own

| Wednesday, June 25, 2014, 8:31 a.m.

As the third and final bald eaglet is expected to soon depart from its historic aerie in Pittsburgh's Hays neighborhood, expect the young to hang around the nest area for about two months.

This is the Hays family of eagles' second year of nesting — the first bald eagles to nest in the City of Pittsburgh in more than 150 years.

It's time to fly for the other eaglets as well near Pittsburgh: There were two young eaglets reported in the Crescent Township nest, one which might have already left the nest or fledged, according to Gary Fujak, wildlife conservation officer with the Pennsylvania Game Commission. And the one eaglet in Harmar was expected to fledge soon, according to the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania.

At the Pittsburgh and other nests, the parents will continue to feed their young up to six weeks after the young leave the nest.

In fact, the webcam set up by Murrysville-based PixController and the Game Commission frequently picks up the cries of the young birds calling to their parents for food.

“It was an extremely successful year,” Fujak said, “and with the webcam, we had a front row seat to watch every little and major event.”

Public interest in the birds has been intense as PixController has counted more than 3 million webcam views. And people have been watching the birds from the Three Rivers Heritage Trail, below the bluff.

“The crowds are more serious now — they are scoping the woods more meticulously trying to find one of the ‘kids,' ” said Annette Devinney, of Penn Hills, who photographs the eagles with her husband, Gerry.

“The young birds are not easy to find,” she said. “They're flying close to the trees. They're not taking a big soar out over the river yet.”

The eaglets that have already left the nest have been returning to the nest periodically and can do so until they leave the area, according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

The parents are expected to stay in the Pittsburgh area through the winter if food is still abundant. They could start puttering at the nest as early as November, according to Fujak. By Christmas, the birds will visit the nest more frequently.

The young birds will travel widely, spending time where ever they can find food, according to Brian Shema, director of conservation for the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania.

The eaglets' survival rates range from 50 percent to up to 90 percent. Recent studies show higher survival rates, Shema said.

The first year is the most perilous: “It's the most dangerous time for the young as they have to learn everything from hunting to avoiding dangers,” said Daniel Brauning, the Game Commission's wildlife diversity division chief.

Shema added that the parents do not provide a lot of traning.

“A lot of the skills have to be learned, such as how to capture prey,” he said. “It's trial and error. They have to learn to survive independently.”

In about four to five years, the young birds will be mature enough to nest. Only then will the birds transform their appearance from the chocolate and cream-mottled plumage to the signature and more dapper white head and tail.

Studies show that the young adult eagle, on average, will nest about 43 miles from their natal site, according to Brian Millsap, national raptor coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The female eagle will disperse farther than the males, ensuring that youngsters don't pair with a parent or a sibling, he added.

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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