Bald Eagles are nesting on all three of Pittsburgh's major rivers!
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Pittsburghers Rooting for the Eagles?
Many people probably thought the day would never come when Pittsburghers would be cheering for the Eagles…Bald Eagles, that is!
It has probably been more than 250 years since Bald Eagles last nested along Pittsburgh’s three rivers. In the 18th century, suitable nesting habitat in the form of mature tall trees was stripped from the hillsides flanking the rivers to meet the lumber and fuel demands of a rapidly growing human population in the area; second, industrialization beginning in the 19th century led to extensive unregulated pollution of the rivers, which decimated fish populations that eagles feed on; third, beginning in the mid-20th century eagles (and many other birds) showed signs of succumbing to the unintended side effects of widespread use of the pesticide DDT (developed for use in World War II) which eventually caused chronic nesting failure for the species. As recently as the mid-1980s, there were just a few remaining nesting Bald Eagles pairs anywhere in Pennsylvania, all of these in the northwest corner of the state. Even more recently, during the Second Pennsylvania Breeding Bird Atlas project conducted statewide from 2004-2010, no Bald Eagles were observed nesting in (or even very close to) Allegheny County.
This history makes it all the more amazing that today there is a pair nesting on each of our three rivers, and one, located on the Monongahela River in the community of Hays, is within just five miles of the miles of the Point! A second nest is within view of the Allegheny River near Harmarville, and a third nest is in an undisclosed location in Allegheny County along the Ohio River. Importantly, Pittsburgh (Allegheny County) is now tied with Philadlephia County: three Bald Eagle nests to three!
All three nests are now known to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, which is responsible for the protection of all our native birds, and especially those that are considered endangered or threatened in the state. The Bald Eagle, which for a long time was on the list of federally Endangered species, was upgraded to Threatened federal status in 1996, having made a tremendous comeback throughout its historic range in the lower 48 states. Its recovery is thanks primarily to enforcement of federal laws protecting it from persecution, the banning in the U.S. in 1972 of the use of DDT, which bio-accumulated in eagles and other piscivorous (fish-eating) birds, eventually causing complete reproductive failure through the thinning of their egg shells to the point that eggs simply broke when parent birds tried to incubate them; passage in the same year of the federal Clean Water Act, and, last but not least, direct recovery measures taken by our Game Commission, which brought nestling Bald Eagles from healthy populations in Saskatchewan to hacking sites in eastern Pennsylvania in the mid-1980s, at a time when the state’s breeding population was down to just a few nesting pairs. Similar efforts by game agencies in surrounding states also have contributed to the rapid increase in the number of nesting Bald Eagles in Pennsylvania. By 2000, there were about 50 known nesting pairs of eagles in the state; as of 2012, more than 200 nesting locations are known for Bald Eagle in Pennsylvania, including nests in almost every county!
With its now much cleaner three rivers, Allegheny County always was assumed to be a prime area for the expansion of Bald Eagles, and as of this spring, that potential seems about to be realized. Staff and volunteers of the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania will assist the Pennsylvania Game Commission in monitoring the progress of two of the three known nests in Allegheny County.
In order to minimize disturbance to the nesting eagles, we will follow the Game Commission’s published guidelines for Bald Eagle Nest Etiquette:
There are few sights more thrilling than a bald eagle at its nest or in action along a shoreline. Responsibilities come with this enjoyment. As you enjoy eagles, you must ensure your presence and behavior do not have a detrimental effect on the eagles or their future use of the area. Eagle nests and young eagles are easily disturbed. By causing a premature fledging, you can inadvertently cause injury or death of an eaglet that cannot yet fly or defend itself. In the cold winter, energy is a very valuable commodity for eagles. Flushing eagles from a roost site or a feeding ground causes unnecessary stress and may expose the eagle to additional predators. So please keep your distance from eagle nests and roosts. Respect their space. Enjoy their presence at a distance with good optics. Please consider the following general etiquette guidelines for avoiding eagle disturbances:
Stay back! Keep at least 1,000 feet from any active nesting, roosting, or feeding area. Use binoculars or a telescope to view the eagles from a distance.
Quiet please! If you must talk, whisper.
Cover up! Use your vehicle or boat as a blind; eagles often are more alarmed by pedestrians.
Be cool! Avoid sudden movements — and movements directly toward the eagles or the nest — while on foot or in a vehicle or boat.
No flushing! Don’t make the birds fly. Flushing an eagle off a nest may expose the eggs or young eaglets to cold or wet weather or a nest predator. It also wastes precious energy and may cause them to leave a valuable meal behind or abandon a nest that they are constructing.
Pay attention! Watch how the eagle reacts to your presence – if it acts agitated, vocalizes repeatedly, or starts moving away, you are too close!
Stay out! Respect restricted zones (and private property). They protect eagle nesting areas. And you’re breaking state and federal laws if you enter them.
Privacy please! Respect the privacy of the landowner. Don’t tell everyone about a new eagle nest. It will attract people to nesting areas who will not use proper etiquette and other unnecessary attention to a nest. If you unexpectedly stumble onto an eagle nest, or hear an eagle vocalizing overhead, leave immediately and quietly.