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There are more bald eagle nests than Pa. game commission can count

Mary Ann Thomas
1368964_web1_vnd-eaglenests2-070619
Courtesy of Dan Dasynich
One of the Pittsburgh Hays bald eagles brings a fish to the two juvenile eagles raised at the nest this year.
1368964_web1_vnd-eaglenests1-070619
Courtesy of Dan Dasynich
A juvenile bald eagle from the Pittsburgh Hays nest feeds on a fish delivered by one of its parents. Newer nests, such as one near Todd Nature Reserve in Buffalo Township, are in more remote areas and are harder to locate, an Audubon Society executive said.

There are too many bald eagle nests for the Pennsylvania Game Commission to count on its own, and it needs the public’s help.

The agency used to release bald eagle nest numbers each year around July 4, when the birds were considered threatened in the state. But a comeback from just three nesting pairs in 1983 to more than 300 today has changed that.

“The population has expanded to a point where tracking individual nests is not feasible,” said Sean Murphy, an ornithologist with the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

The eagle population steadily rebounded after the commission’s reintroduction of the charismatic raptors in the 1980s. The birds, which were nationally endangered after DDT decimated the population, were delisted as threatened in Pennsylvania in 2014.

Success aside, bald eagles continue to be protected by the U.S. Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act that, among other things, prohibits taking of the birds, nests or eggs, Murphy added.

This is where the public’s help comes in.

“In order to protect every bald eagle nest in the state,” Murphy said, “the PGC relies on partners and the public to report new and active eagle nest sites.”

Eagle nesting occurs from January through August. The public can monitor and report activity to the commission by using its online survey tool: https://pgcdatacollection.pa.gov/baldeaglenestsurvey.

The eagle population is poised for further growth in Southwestern Pennsylvania, according to commission.

The new, most recent nesting activity creating a buzz in Allegheny County is a pair of bald eagles in Allegheny County’s North Park. Although the birds built a nest, they didn’t produce young and are expected to return to nest again later this year.

“We believe there are more nests that we are not aware of in the area because people haven’t seen them or they aren’t reporting them,” said Jim Bonner, executive director of the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania. Audubon and CSE Corp. of Murrysville operate a live webcam on the eagle nest in Pittsburgh’s Hays neighborhood.

But what is interesting to note is that the three pairs in Allegheny County — North Park, Harmar and Pittsburgh Hays — are in very public, busy areas, Bonner said.

“The nests that started later, such as the one close to Todd Nature Reserve in Buffalo Township, seem to be in fairly remote areas,” he said.

“You would expect the birds would have been forced by lack of good opportunity to take the busier places, but that has not been the case,” he said.

In addition to the three rivers, he notes there are larger streams that present nesting opportunities for the birds. “There are still plenty of places to nest, which will be driven by food abundance,” Bonner said. And, of course, trees large enough to support an eagles’ nest.

Eagles are spotted frequently throughout the region and the public is eager to spot them, said Bonner, sometimes mistaking other birds of prey and turkeys for them.

The Pittsburgh area also attracts bald eagles that overwinter from upstate New York and Canada, he added.

“They like to fish in our rivers, particularly around the dams with open water,” said Bonner, who has watched them as far back as 15 to 20 years ago on the Allegheny River at the Highland Park dam and the Dashields dam on the Ohio River.

“It’s a wonderful success story,” Bonner said.

Mary Ann Thomas is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Mary at 724-226-4691, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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