Let's Talk About Birds: Bald eagle nests

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This is one of a series presented by the National Aviary, which works to inspire respect for nature through an appreciation of birds.

Some of the hottest real estate in the Pittsburgh area is going fast. Brand new on the market are circular wood structures that are 6 feet in diameter, bearing one room, no roof and no front door. There's no gas, plumbing or electricity. There are no driveways, garages or front street parking. But the riverfront view? Undeniably amazing!

These riverfront homes are known as "eyries," and they are the nests of bald eagles. You can find eyries on forested hillsides above healthy lakes and rivers. Allegheny County is now home to three nesting pairs of bald eagles -- one eyrie on each of our three rivers.

The arrival of bald eagles to the region isn't without its ecological drama. At the nesting site in Harmar, the eagles have made themselves quite at home -- in an existing red-tailed hawk nest after evicting the original tenants! The hawks are unwilling to give up their nest without a fight, though, and both pairs of birds have been seen in and around the nest over the past weeks.

As is the case for most real estate, nesting boils down to "location, location, location." The contested nest in Harmar is in a sturdy tree within view of the Allegheny River. This is prime property for bald eagles becaude they spend much of their time fishing near the water.

Why don't the bald eagles build their own nest and leave the hawk nest alone? It's advantageous for the bald eagles to take over an existing nest because they will expend less energy remodeling it than building a new one. Bald eagles will often use the same nest year after year, adding sticks in the early spring as part of their nesting ritual. Over time, these nests may grow to massive proportions. Some eagle nests are the size of queen beds and weigh up to 2 tons.

As the weather clears and spring arrives, consider taking your family to meet the new neighbors. When viewing bald eagles in the wild, follow the guidelines set by the Pennsylvania Game Commission to ensure your presence does not have a detrimental effect on nesting bald eagles and their young. These guidelines can be found at www.pgc.state.pa.us. And don't forget your binoculars -- you can easily observe two of the three bald eagle nests in Allegheny County with them.

Of course, you can always get an up close view and learn more about the resident bald eagles at the National Aviary. The National Aviary is open daily 10 a.m.-5 p.m., and more information can be found at www.aviary.org.



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