While many will look to the sky for fireworks today, one Pittsburgh family hopes to take to the sky.
The eagles of Hays, whose nesting behavior on a hillside overlooking East Carson Street has captivated Pittsburghers since February, are now officially in fledging mode. The turkey-sized bald eagle baby is eagerly -- if a little awkwardly -- flapping its wings in flight among and beyond the tree limbs.
Eagle-watchers observing from the Great Allegheny Passage Trail along the Monongahela River have witnessed the white-headed parents teasing the fledgling with fish and urging it to attempt to fly longer distances.
"The bird is now flying on its own. He's taken some decent flapping-powered flights up toward the Glenwood Bridge and back -- a major step in its development," said ornithologist Robert Mulvihill of the National Aviary.
Since early June, when the eaglet apparently left the nest in an unintentional pre-fledging, it has clung to a branch beneath the nest. Onlookers watched as the parents brought it fish and other foods. This week, right on time at about 11 weeks old, the eaglet has become a full-fledged, well, fledgling.
"The baby was flying around before 10 a.m. Then it landed back on the same branch and hasn't moved," said Alyssa Karmann of South Park, who has been visiting the trail near the nesting site and watching the Hays eagles since February. "[Tuesday] the mother was carrying a fish back and forth, trying to get the baby to take off and take it from her. The baby cried and flapped its wings, but wouldn't take off, so the mother landed near the baby and ate it in front of her and wouldn't give her any."
Mr. Mulvihill said that's typical instinctive eagle behavior. The parents are expected to continue providing food for the fledgling for about six weeks. As its solo flights reach longer distances, much of that behavior may be out of sight of eagle-watchers.
The next major juncture in the young bird's development will be to find and eat its own food, which is likely to occur along the Monongahela River. Throughout the summer Pittsburghers may get glimpses of the brown fledgling with a white-headed parent, or even the whole family, soaring over the Three Rivers area.
"After that, the parents will sense that their breeding responsibilities are over and will probably begin migrating south," said Mr. Mulvihill. "The young bird will be left to fend for itself and will fly away from this area, on its own or with them. But eventually the parents and their young will go their separate ways."
In the 30th year of efforts to restore bald eagle populations in Pennsylvania, the state Game Commission has documented 252 eagle nests in the commonwealth, a record high, with nesting eagles in 56 of the state's 67 counties. More than 1,000 eaglets have been hatched in the state.
The bald eagle was removed from the federal list of threatened and endangered species in 2007, but remains listed as a threatened species in Pennsylvania. Game Commission spokesman Travis Lau said that while conditions for removal from "threatened" status have been met for three consecutive years, the state's bald eagle management plan calls for removal after five years.
John Hayes: 412-263-1991 or email@example.com. First Published July 4, 2013 4:00 AM