Let's Talk About Birds: Good things come in threes

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This is one of a series presented by the National Aviary, America’s bird zoo. The National Aviary works to inspire a respect for nature through an appreciation of birds.

It’s hard to believe that less than 50 years ago the bald eagle was on a path to extinction everywhere except Canada and Alaska. With its numbers dwindling due to direct persecution, the adverse effects of the pesticide DDT and unchecked pollution of streams and rivers, our national symbol, at its lowest point, had declined to fewer than 500 nesting pairs in all of the lower 48 states and just three pairs in Pennsylvania. Today, thanks to joint efforts at federal, state and local levels, there are an estimated 10,000 pairs of nesting bald eagles in the contiguous United States and more than 250 pairs in Pennsylvania, including three pairs in the Pittsburgh region — fittingly enough, one pair on each on the city’s three rivers.

One of these pairs, the Hays bald eagles, outdid themselves by successfully hatching, rearing and fledging three eaglets along the banks of the Monongahela River — a decidedly uncommon accomplishment achieved by fewer than 5 percent of nesting eagles. The significance of this did not go unnoticed, as thousands of people from around the world have logged more than 3 million views of the live nest camera installed last December by the Pennsylvania Game Commission and PixController, Inc.

Our pride and joy in seeing three pairs of bald eagles making their home in Pittsburgh is thanks to three landmark federal legislative actions taken in the early 1970s. The banning of DDT in 1972 was inspired by irrefutable evidence compiled and communicated by Allegheny County’s own Rachel Carson in her landmark book, “Silent Spring.” This ban helped ensure that bald eagles and other birds would not face an ever-increasing burden of a pesticide that interferred with their reproductive capabilities.

Passage in 1973 of the federal Clean Water Act set strict surface water quality standards and goals. Slowly but surely this led to reduced pollution loads, to the point where many of our rivers and streams once again harbor healthy populations of game fish and other wildlife. Last but not least, the Endangered Species Act of 1973, which prioritized the protection and management of species like the bald eagle, gave federal and state agencies the authority and impetus to devote time and resources to actively protecting and restoring populations of endangered species.

With this charge, the Pennsylvania Game Commission worked tirelessly, beginning in the late 1970s, to restore bald eagles to the state by fostering nearly 100 bald eagle chicks from Saskatchewan, Canada, in hacking towers (artificial nests) along the Susquehanna River. Their prodigious effort planted the seeds of the remarkable ongoing recovery of the species in Pennsylvania that we all are enjoying today, in the process turning the Steelers faithful into eagles fans!


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