Bald eagles make home along Lower Valley shoreline

Tawnya Panizzi
| Wednesday, March 6, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Soaring high above the Lower Valley shoreline, a pair of bald eagles are making a home here for the first time in 30 years.

And that speaks volumes about the recovering health of the local eco-system, officials from the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania said.

“Seeing an increase in bald eagles is good news, not just for the species but for the condition of the environment,” said Bob Mulvihill, ornithologist with the Audubon Society, based at Beechwood Farms Nature Reserve in Fox Chapel.

“We've succeeded in restoring the national symbol to good health within the United States that it represents.”

In all, three bald eagle nests have been reported along Pittsburgh's rivers.

There's one in Hays along the Monongahela, one in Crescent Township along the Ohio and one in Harmar along the Allegheny.

Rachel Handel, Beechwood spokeswoman, said the Harmar nest is situated near the foot of the Hulton Bridge. It can be viewed from walking trails along the river.

It's a delicate time for the nest, Mulvihill said, so people trying to sneak a glimpse should try to avoid causing any disturbance.

It's likely that the eagles previously had scouted the area before returning to build their nest. Typically, they do not lay eggs until they are about 4 years old.

The importance of the bald eagle creating their home here should not be undervalued, Handel said.

Just three decades ago, the birds were close to extinction; the state had only two or three nesting pairs in one county.

“Now, we have 200 pairs across more than three-quarters of the counties,” said Mulvihill, statewide coordinator for the second edition of the “Breeding Bird Atlas.”

The gains were made slowly and weren't always noticeable, until the pair of eagles in Harmar started creating a stir.

Handel said residents began calling excitedly to report seeing the birds near the area.

“It's nice when a very conspicuous indicator of an improvement can be in a starring role,” Mulvihill said.

That the local habitat is healthy enough to support nesting of the majestic birds means that the water quality in western Pennsylvania has made a slow but deserved comeback after being polluted by DDT in the 1950s, Mulvihill said.

Latent effects of the water pollution lingered for years. Not only did the species lose its habitat and food source, the birds lost the ability to be reproductive.

“We were losing them by attrition,” Mulvihill said.

Since the passage of the Clean Water Act and the efforts by the state game commission to bolster the population of eagles by importing them from Saskatchewan, the birds have begun setting up home in Pennsylvania.

For years, it was mostly in the central part of the state, but “they've finally made it here,” Mulvihill said.

“It's a wonderful thing, not just because it's inherently a wonderful thing to have wildlife do well after suffering at the hand of humans, but it's emblematic of an entire ecosystem that we ourselves are a part of.”

Tawnya Panizzi is a writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reacyed at

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