Hays eagles soon to be empty-nesters

Children grow up and leave home every day, but for the “empty nesters” of Hays, it’s literal.

The bald eagle nest in the Pittsburgh neighborhood along the Monongahela River is now vacant most of the time. The adults, who have successfully fledged eaglets for two consecutive years, and the three juveniles of the 2014 brood occasionally stop at the nest for short visits before flying off to continue lessons in hunting and scavenging.

Sometime this month, the juveniles are expected to “disperse” — leave the area individually and permanently to start their own eagle lives.

The high-tech wildlife camera, which focused on the nest 24/​7 and chronicled this eagle family’s struggles and triumphs, will be removed Aug. 19 as part of the original state Game Commission schedule.

Thousands of eagle watchers locally and globally who have logged nearly 3.5 million computer page views on the camera’s live feed are expected to continue to interact on the camera’s comments board, explore other wildlife cameras or move on with a new appreciation of the natural world.

“It’s been phenomenal. Never did I expect it to be so popular,” said Bill Powers, president of the Murrysville-based PixController security camera company that donated the camera and its management for the Game Commission’s wildly successful pilot project.

As page views increased, PixController teamed with a South African company that sold advertising space on the live feed and permitted it to be embedded at post-gazette.com and other platforms.

“From a scientific perspective, to be able to see into an active eagle nest in an urban environment and observe the dynamics of a sibling group 24 hours a day for a prolonged nesting period, it was just remarkable,” said Bob Mulvihill, an ornithologist with the National Aviary.

“From a social perspective, I think it’s been great. It brought out a degree of interest in a species that has had some conservation challenges, and it showed the whole world Pittsburgh is a good place: We have eagles.”

From their homes and work stations, wildlife watchers followed the eagle family from conception to the laying of fertile eggs that survived storms, a late-night raccoon attack and hungry hawks’ fly-overs .

“All three eggs hatched, which is remarkable on its own, but all of the chicks survived and fledged. I’m not sure people realize how unusual that was,” said the Game Commission’s regional education director, Tom Fazi.

“You could not have written a better script for this story,” said Jim Bonner, executive director of the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania. “If you think of all the turning points where things could have gone much differently … in a way, it would have been a better educational experience for all the people watching if there had been a serious setback. That’s what happens every day at nests everywhere.”

The Hays camera is expected to be redeployed in December. Mr. Powers said he hopes to install a camera at another Allegheny County eagle nest in Harmar that fledged one eaglet this year and launch a beaver lodge camera.

The Game Commission, National Aviary and Audubon Society are exploring ways to set up new educational outreach ventures associated with PixController wildlife cameras next year.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has expanded its link to the Hays eagle camera to a broader wildlife camera page that will link to active feeds locally and around the world and provide comments boards. See the new page at post-gazette.com/​wildlifecams.

John Hayes: jhayes@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1991.

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