Webcam on bald eagles marks Mon River's recovery

February 6, 2014
The eagle research project at Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Historic Village near Avella produced this photo of a bald eagle at the project's camera site. This juvenile eagle was spotted there for a couple of days in January 2013. - Photo courtesy of Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Historic Village

Pittsburgh has the first live webcam ever trained on nesting bald eagles in a testament to the Monongahela River's recovery from its days of being an industrial cesspool.

The state Game Commission in partnership with PixController, an innovative company specializing in outdoor surveillance, has the experiment publicly broadcast on the Internet from the nest alongside the river in Pittsburgh's Hayes section.

“Nobody else has this technology to do this streaming broadcast,” said Bill Powers Jr., owner of the Murrysville company that has advanced the technology.

“This is the best story in the entire Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, to once have no wildlife, fish in the Mon Valley and then to have this,” Powers said Thursday.

The Game Commission believes it's the first time in nearly 250 years that the Pittsburgh region is home to bald eagles because of the ecological damage caused to area rivers by the coal and steel industries.

Scientists determined, however, the once nearly-dead Monongahela River attracted as many as 76 species of fish since pollution controls were put in place in the 1960s and the steel industry collapsed, the state Fish and Boat Commission has said.

“Every year we're increasing the number of nesting eagles across the commonwealth,” said Tom Fazi, spokesman for the Game Commission's Southwest region.

While there has yet to be such a nest confirmed in Washington County, a trail camera at Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Historic Village near Avella, used to study the migratory patterns of the golden eagle, captured the first image of an immature bald eagle in Washington County.

Though no bald eagle nests were documented in the county, “it's only a matter of time” before one will be found, Fazi said.

He said there is a nest at the border of Fayette and Greene counties near Point Marion. There is another in Allegheny County along the Ohio River in Crescent Township. Westmoreland County has one nest each at Beaver Run Reservoir and along the Conemaugh River, Fazi said.

The webcam in Hayes is unique because it borrows on Verizon cellphone technology to allow PixController to control its functions remotely. The solar-powered camera also has a heater to burn off early morning frost on its lens.

Powers said his company's technology also captured the first-ever birth of a black bear using a camera placed in a den in Northern Minnesota.

The Hayes eagles are not banded, and the Game Commission assumes they are descendants of those reintroduced in Pennsylvania from Canada in the mid-1980s, Fazi said.

PixController installed the Hayes camera near the intersection of routes 885 and 837 prior to Jan. 1 to meet a federal mandate preventing people from going within 660 feet of breeding bald eagles. The females in this area typically lay between one and three eggs in February and March and incubate them for about 35 days.

Viewers of the steaming video in Hayes need to be warned the images can be graphic as bald eagles eat raw fish in the nest and are known to sometimes execute their offspring, Fazi said.

Those watching the video Wednesday afternoon witnessed an eagle eating a rabbit, Powers said.

“It's going to be interesting,” Fazi said. “No one has ever been able to watch everything. We may learn a great deal.”

To view the webcam, visit

Scott Beveridge is a North Charleroi native who has lived most of his life in nearby Rostraver Township. He is a general assignments reporter focusing on investigative journalism and writing stories about the mid-Mon Valley. He has a bachelor's degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and a master's from Duquesne University. Scott spent three weeks in Vietnam in 2004 as a foreign correspondent under an International Center for Journalists fellowship.

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