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Residents Flock To Trail In Pittsburgh To Watch Nesting Eagles


A couple of major American cities have eagle fever. Bird lovers watched on a web stream when eaglets hatched recently in Washington, D.C., and thousands of people are also watching webcams in Pittsburgh. For about 200 years, polluted rivers destroyed the fish populations the eagles need to thrive there. But with cleaner rivers, the eagles have returned over the past few years.

This season, one pair laid three eggs. Two of those eggs hatched this week. Member station WESA's Sarah Schneider reports from the riverfront trail where the nest is visible.

SARAH SCHNEIDER, BYLINE: Eagles are nesting a few miles from downtown Pittsburgh. People who started as strangers there have become friends, spending every weekend on the trail about 600 feet from the nest, staring up. They bring lawn chairs and telephoto camera lenses. Some wear binoculars, others are clad in camouflage, waiting for the birds to fly.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Now she's going to get ready to go.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Get ready for flight.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Here she comes.

SCHNEIDER: Joggers and cyclists stop and ask what everyone is looking at. And that's when the regulars show off their knowledge...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Because they're ground-nesting birds...

SCHNEIDER: ...How the male and female switch off egg-guarding duty, what kind of fish they bring back to the nest, how they roll the eggs to keep a steady temperature and that the nest is the size of a queen mattress.

DAN DASYNICH: Yeah, they're killing machines. That's all they do is reproduce and kill. That's all they're meant to be.

SCHNEIDER: That's Dan Dasynich. He's watching the live stream of the nest on his phone, ready with his camera for the birds to take flight. When another regular, Wendy Merrill, shows up, Dan hugs her. The friends met on the trail watching the birds. She's also become an avid eagle watcher since the birds came back to the city. She's a clinical psychologist and says she enjoys studying the birds' social patterns.

WENDY MERRILL: It wasn't very long ago that the only people who ever got to see inside an eagle's nest were an elite group of - small group of researchers.

SCHNEIDER: Via the webcam, Merrill and others get much closer than they can in person, watching run-ins with intruders and hearing the eagles' calls.


SCHNEIDER: The webcam drew most of these people to the trail. When the eagles are in the nest, they consult the live stream on their phones, checking the status of the chicks.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: That was kind of high.

DASYNICH: Yeah, that was a high fly out.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: You could knock them out of the air with a clothespin (ph).

DASYNICH: Yes, yes. It's just - seeing that wingspan and that grimace they have coming right at you is incredible.

SCHNEIDER: The eaglets should fly on their own in two to three months, but there's no way of knowing where they'll end up. If they do make it, in four to five years, they could lay eggs of their own. For NPR News, I'm Sarah Schneider in Pittsburgh. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sarah Schneider comes to Pittsburgh by way of the prairie state of Illinois. She spent the summer of 2014 getting to know Pittsburgh as a reporting and photography intern with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. She now collaborates on special projects including the Life of Learning Initiative as the station’s PULSE - Pittsburgh Urban Leadership Service Experience - fellow. Sarah graduated from Southern Illinois University’s Journalism School in May. During her four years there she worked as a reporter and editor at the school newspaper, the Daily Egyptian. She has previously interned at newspapers in eastern Idaho and central Illinois. You can often find Sarah behind a camera documenting people she meets and discovering new places. She also enjoys reading, crocheting and National Geographic documentaries.
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