Bald eagles in Harmar, Pittsburgh are building new nests
Arguably two of Allegheny County’s most popular avian couples, the Pittsburgh Hays and Harmar bald eagles look like they might be changing residences.
The Harmar nest seems to have disappeared from the stately sycamore above Route 28 while the Hays nest has been overtaken by a poison ivy vine.
The birds have been in the process of building new aeries close to their old ones, on remote bluffs high above the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers, respectively.
“A good productive territory is a valuable commodity and an eagle is not going to give that up,” said Patricia Barber, endangered species biologist with the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
While eagles are known for their large nests that can reach several tons, they rebuild them often and news ones as well.
Lightning strikes. Branches break. Catastrophe hits and nests are lost.
Plus, with young eaglets jumping around, “it’s rough on a nest,” said Barber.
Recently, the Harmar bald eagles took turns snapping off branches with their mighty talons from the treetops above the Route 28 and depositing them in a sycamore tree several hundred yards downriver from the tree where they nested for the past five years.
A pair of red-tailed hawks unsuccessfully tried to chase off the much larger eagles as they worked on the new nest, possibly because it’s an old nest site for the hawks, or just because it’s in their territory.
“Look, the red-tails want their nest back,” said Annette Devinney, a photographer from Penn Hills who watched the eagles build the nest last Sunday.
The eagles and red-tailed hawks have tangled for years — with the hawks predictably losing every time.
A pair of red-tailed hawks originally occupied the eagles’ previous nest. The eagle takeover of that nest was marked by aerial clashes, according to Barber.
Members of the Facebook group Harmar Bald Eagles of Pittsburgh have been documenting the construction of the new nest for the past several weeks. They believe the eagles’ original nest was damaged by a lightning strike.
Jim Bonner, executive director of the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania, visited the Harmar site early last week to watch the birds.
He can’t predict which nesting site the birds will choose when it comes time for egg-laying in March.
The old nest is not visible.
“I would not be surprised if the eagles abandon this nest, the red-tailed hawks would not come back,” he said.
Audubon might consider turning on the webcam to document the red-tailed hawk activity, Bonner said.
The Hays eagles started to build their new nest about 80 yards downstream from their old one in late September, according to Dana Nesiti of West Homestead, a photographer who has been chronicling the birds for years.
This is their fourth nest on the same hillside in the city’s Hays section since 2013.
He believes the eagles left their last nest where they successfully raised one eaglet this year because it was overtaken with vines.
The new nest is located on a steep hill in an oak tree, which “looks like an awesome tree for the young to ‘branch out’ on.”
However, viewing the eagles will not be so easy for birdwatchers on the Three Rivers Heritage Trail.
Bonner said he is investigating options for the webcam at the Hays nest.
CSE PixController of Murrysville has been providing the webcams for both nests.
Mary Ann Thomas is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Mary Ann at 724-226-4691, [email protected] or via Twitter @MaThomas_Trib.