Watch two active bald eagle nests on live webcam

Pittsburgh — It’s lights, camera, action in the bluffs in and around this city, as wildlife watchers gear up for another season of eagle cam.

Okay, there are no lights, but viewers can expect to see plenty of action, with new webcams now focused on eagle nests in the city neighborhood of Hays on the Monongahela River and in the suburb of Harmar on the Allegheny River, where two established pairs of eagles are expected to lay eggs in late February or early March.

Although the raptors’ antics have been livestreamed for several years, higher-tech equipment is delivering the best images yet, according to Bill Powers, president of Pix Controller, a partner in the project.

“The biggest improvement is that we’ve upgraded to high-def,” said Powers. “And higher magnification lets us zoom in tighter on the nests.”

Viewers will notice the most dramatic difference in Hays where solar-powered batteries are making the high-def hook-up possible, he said. “The nest is so far from any kind of power and internet-wired cable those two major things didn’t allow us to do HD in the past. But now we can. We’re hoping for solar-powered HD 24/7.”

In Harmar, a new camera will allow for improved close-ups of the nest the eagles began to occupy in a sycamore tree in 2013, after dislodging a pair of red-tailed hawks.

While Pix Controller shoots the video, 24/7, Comcast is donating the bandwidth, and Wild Earth, a company in South Africa, logs into the cameras and does the actual broadcasting on-line, reaching all parts of the globe that have access to the internet.

“The nests are extremely popular. We get two to three million hits a year,” said Powers. “We have viewers in places like Indonesia and the Far East. We have a lot of European viewers. People find out about the nests through Google, and social media helps a lot.”

Neither of the videos is edited, so viewers will be able to see all aspects of nest life in every graphic and harrowing detail until the birds fledge in June or July.

Last year, they saw a raccoon attempt a night-time invasion of the Hays nest, which is built in an old hackberry tree, only to be chased by one of the adult eagles. In a separate incident, a cat became a meal.

“This is reality TV at its best,” said Powers. “It’s survival as it happens.”

The Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania is managing the webcam project with licensing from the Pennsylvania Game Commission. Audubon two years ago purchased the land where the Harmar nest is located to help ensure the eagles’ protection.

Audubon operations director Brian Shema said the eagle cams are one of the most compelling educational opportunities available to the public. “It can become addictive,” said Shema, “to see what the eagles are doing that day.”

As of early January, the birds were repairing and reinforcing their nests in preparation for egg-laying. Once eagles build a nest – typically in trees and near water – they tend to return to it each year.

Their nest can be the size of a Volkswagen and weigh well over a ton, Shema said. “They’re made mostly of branches and sticks, but the eagles will add fine grasses as the eggs are incubating, for insulation and protection.”

The hatching and development of young eaglets is usually the most popular with viewers, he said.

Besides the two Pittsburgh-area pairs, there is a third nest in Allegheny County, and 276 more across Pennsylvania, as documented by the Pennsylvania Game Commission. Forty ago, eagles faced near-extirpation, as a consequence of the pesticide DDT. Ingesting the poison through their prey made eagle eggs fragile and unviable.

Because their numbers have rebounded so dramatically, eagles were delisted by the state in 2014, although they remain federally protected.

“In the 1980s, there were only three or four nests in the entire state. That’s just six to eight birds,” Shema said. “Look where we are today.”

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