Wildlife: It's time for a Pittsburgh birding trail

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It wasn't too long ago that peregrine falcons and bald eagles were endangered and rarely seen in the Pittsburgh area. Today, they are nesting here. One pair of peregrines nests Downtown, another nests on the University of Pittsburgh campus, and five more peregrine nests can be found on area bridges.

And last Sunday several callers to my radio show said two pairs of bald eagles are also nesting locally. It's too early to know if the eagle nests have eggs, but they are exhibiting nesting behavior. They are probably young birds nesting for the first time, and such nests are often unsuccessful.

The presence of large conspicuous birds attracts attention. At the moment, peregrines and eagles are the superstars of Pittsburgh's birding world, but the area has a long history of great birding. The spring warbler migration is usually spectacular, and in mid-winter, concentrations of gulls can often be found at Point State Park.

Perhaps it's time to create a Pittsburgh-area birding trail. Bob Mulvihill, an ornithologist at the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania, suggested the idea on my show. I think it's a great idea.

Birding trails offer birders and eco-tourists opportunities to see many different species in predictable places by exploring miles of diverse habitats. In Birding magazine (October 2001), Bill Shepard called birding trails "gateways to conservation and adventure." They also drive economic development by attracting birders from outside an area to see notable species. Currently 36 states have at least one birding trail.

The Pittsburgh area has diverse habitats ranging from rivers, lakes and wetlands to grasslands and upland forests that attract a wide variety of birds.

Local organizations such as the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania, the National Aviary, the Three Rivers Birding Club and many local nature centers could provide logistical support. And Pittsburgh's birding community is large, expert and always willing to show people around. That sounds like a solid foundation for a birding trail.

Startup costs are minimal. A map that shows local hot spots is all that's required. Observation platforms, towers and boardwalks can come later. Build a Three Rivers Birding Trail and birders will come ... to see peregrines, eagles, waterfowl, owls, warblers, orioles and tanagers.

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Biologist, author and broadcaster Scott Shalaway can be heard 9-11 a.m. Saturdays on 1370 WVLY-AM (Wheeling) and noon-2 p.m. Sundays on 1360 WMNY-AM (Pittsburgh). He can be reached at http://scottshalaway.googlepages.com and 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033.


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