Experts attempt to calm public worries about eaglet trio in Hays

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While the Pittsburgh bald eagle webcam provides a glimpse into the lives of the three eaglets in their nest high atop a hill in Hays, it is not reality TV, where things are wrapped up in a neat 30- or 60-minute window.

Nature must take its course -- and it does, in its own time.

Jim Bonner, executive director of the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania, tried Monday to assuage the fears of eagle-watchers posting on the website's chat box that the three eaglets weren't getting enough food from mom and dad, who some also feared had flown the coop.

WATCH: Hays bald eagles nest

Sure enough, after both parents had spent hours away from the nest, they returned and fed the little ones Monday afternoon.

"They don't have a refrigerator. They don't get to eat on demand," Mr. Bonner said Monday. "This is most likely not a completely unusual scenario. It's just that we're watching it in real time."

Mr. Bonner said what appears worrisome to viewers might not capture the whole picture. For one, the camera is usually fixed tightly on the nest, and a parent might be on a tree branch a mere 15 feet away.

So not to worry: The parents are still around, and it's not unusual for eaglets to go for a period of time without being fed, particularly as they get older.

Others posting in the chat box Monday worried that the proximity of the nest to the closed Pittsburgh Recycling Service, across the Monongahela River in Hazelwood, put the eaglets at risk of consuming poisoned rats.

Responding to complaints that the Hazelwood site was infested, the Allegheny County Health Department got permission to enter the property to bait for rats.

But people watching the eagle camera have wondered whether the adult eagles might scavenge the dead rats and take them back to the nest to feed their young.

The concern got legs on social media and made its way to Tom Fazi, the information and education supervisor in the southwest regional office of the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

"Obviously, the potential problem is if the eagles are eating poisoned rats, and we're concerned about that," said Mr. Fazi.

"They will pick up dead animals. We would prefer that [the health department] didn't use poison.

"In their defense, this is what you would do in dealing with a rat problem. And I can understand the concerns of people living around there.

"There's not a whole lot we can do other than discourage the use of the poison."

Health spokesman Guillermo Cole said it is his understanding that after rats eat the poisoned bait, they die later in their burrows, a factor that should reduce concerns about the safety of the eagles

Orkin, the pest control company, reports on its website that rat baits "can be harmful to humans, house pets and wildlife if misapplied or ingested."

"We know they fish from the river, and the nest is not too far from that facility," said Bill Powers, CEO of PixController Inc., whose company erected and maintains the nest camera.

"We can pan the camera and see" the recycling center across the river. "We have confirmation by photographers on the trail who have taken photos of the eagles hunting on the other side of the river" in Hazelwood.

Mr. Bonner noted that the eagles so far have fed their young mostly fish.

"I think everything is a concern," he said, "it's just what degree of a concern."

Molly Born: or 412-263-1944. Diana Nelson Jones contributed. First Published May 5, 2014 2:30 PM

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