ShareThis Page

Birds indicate changes in Alle-Kiski Valley habitat

| Sunday, Dec. 19, 2010

Their morning of bird-watching nearly done, a group of biologists stopped to marvel Saturday at a creeper hanging upside down in a tree at Murphy's Bottom.

While they watched the small brown bird with a curved bill linger for a few moments before flying to another tree, group members talked about the interesting things they saw during their about 2-mile walk near the Allegheny River.

Their purpose was to count the number and types of birds they saw. Their finds ranged from happening upon a group of robins digging for insects to spotting a yellow-bellied sap sucker, which is a type of woodpecker.

But the highlight of the morning for several group members involved spotting a young bald eagle.

"They're not exactly rare along the Allegheny River, but it's always nice to see a bald eagle," said Kyle Selcer, a Duquesne University biology professor.

Maria Wheeler, 25, a graduate student at Duquesne University, said such sightings are among the reasons she manages to roll out of bed early in the morning to join the group. She's doing genetic research that involves studying bald and golden eagles.

In addition to the contingent from Duquesne University, students and scientists from University of Pittsburgh and West Virginia University took part in yesterday's bird count, covering more than 100 acres.

The purpose of the effort was to identify the birds that are wintering in the Pittsburgh region, said Brady Porter, a Duquesne University biology professor. The count marked the fourth at Murphy's Bottom and 111th overall.

Selcer and Porter said documenting shifts in the number and species of birds wintering in the region helps scientists identify such things as landscape and climate changes.

"It's important to have this long-term data," Selcer said.

Porter said group members spotted at least 200 birds from 28 species.

Murphy's Bottom is ideal for counting because of its wildlife habitats -- open fields, woods and a small lake among them.

The group set out at 6:30 a.m. Not long into the walk, Porter said, a great horned owl started to hoot.

"That was the purpose of starting so early," he said.

The group will send its data to the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania. Ultimately, the data will be sent to the National Audubon Society.

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.