Screenshot of video taken this morning shows one of the bald eagles in the Hays nest turning the newly hatched.
By John Hayes / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Bald eagles nesting in the Pittsburgh community of Hays are hoping for better luck this time.
Despite a spectacular 2014 nesting season that successfully fledged three eaglets and drew some 3 million page views to a live-streaming eagle website, last year’s eggs didn’t survive. Prolonged sub-zero temperatures during the initial days of brooding were believed to have rendered the eggs unviable.
The cycle began again Valentine’s Day weekend with the arrival of an egg in the nest overlooking the Monongahela River. But eagle watchers were concerned that Saturday’s deep freeze could bring this year’s clutch to a premature end.
“It was pretty cold. Their timing wasn’t perfect,” said Jim Bonner, executive director of the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania. “But they have no control of that and already conditions are different than they were last year.”
In 2015, eagle eggs also failed to hatch at another site above the Allegheny River at Harmar. Eaglets were fledged, however, at a third Allegheny County nest site in Crescent, and in Hanover County, where the state Game Commission operates a webcam.
More than 270 active bald eagle nests have been documented in Pennsylvania.
Mr. Bonner said a new camera at the Harmar site shows the birds are active but have yet to lay an egg.
“The Hays egg came four days earlier than last year. There’s nothing unusual there,” he said. “The eagles at Crescent and Hanover are older and more experienced, and that may be the reason for the survival of their eggs last year.”
Often in nature, experience matters. Some instinctive eagle behaviors — weaving a nest, mating — are transferred through DNA in a way science doesn’t understand, said Mr. Bonner.
“Reactive behaviors, like learning how to fly and hunt and caring for young, are adaptations. When something doesn’t work, they try another way,” he said. “Crows and jays are considered to be much more intelligent than other birds, and ostrich intelligence goes down quite a bit. Eagles, red-tailed hawks and a lot of raptors — they’re probably somewhere in the middle.”
Saturday’s low of 6 degrees and a regional winter weather advisory in effect until this morning may not be enough to harm the Hays egg. Mr. Bonner noted that temperatures this week were expected to rise into the 50s.
Eagle eggs are generally laid in two- to three-day intervals, and clutches of one to three eggs are not uncommon. If more eggs are coming in Hays, they’re expected to drop soon. As of Monday, the Harmar eagles were not displaying egg-laying behaviors. There is no vantage point on the Crescent nest, located on private property.
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