A webcam is catching the return of the American bald eagle, or at least a beginning of its resurgence, in Pennsylvania almost 250 years after it was known to nest in the area. Along Pittsburgh’s rivers in Allegheny County, six adults birds have been averting extinction, and by building nests near the Monongahela River, the Ohio River, and the Allegheny River, the icon for American liberty and strength is making a comeback that is compelling biologists and the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania as much as bird watchers in the community.
Children in the US grow up with an understanding of the majesty of nature through the animals chosen to represent certain archetypes of the American collective character, and so to watch a creature that shares this intimate connection return from near extinction as a result of human action, it might also alter the course of perception that American culture is disintegrating, as long as the lesson is taken to heart.
On Friday afternoon, an eagle chick hatched with its watchful mother protecting it from a raccoon, and the birth itself was caught live by a webcam placed by PixController Inc. of Murrysville at the behest of the Pennsylvania Game Commission. Another baby eagle was born over the weekend, and a third is expected soon.
The American bald eagle is not only a metaphor of US national pride, but it is also entirely indigenous to North America. Though it is mostly seen in Alaska, where approximately 70,000 and half of the world’s population of eagles reside, it was put on the endangered species list in the 1970s when pesticides such as DDT were softening the structure of their eggs until the chemicals would cause them to break prematurely, before the eaglet had developed. With eating habits directed towards fish, the animal can be found near open water, and even in places such as Florida, but by the 1980s only a few nests were detected in the state of Pennsylvania and a breeding study taken from 2004 to 2010 had discovered virtually no bald eagles in Allegheny County.
In the 18th century, when the tallest trees were being cleared from the hills surrounding Pittsburgh’s major rivers for fuel and lumber, the habitat used by the birds to create their nests all but disappeared. In the 19th century, the American industrial revolution poisoned these rivers with so much pollution that the fish populations were thinned to the point of leaving the eagles homeless and starving. Until DDT and similar tasteless and colorless insecticides were banned, there was no way to avert the absence of the species in this area and extinction seemed imminent.
Another sign of its return occurred last week, when the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources caught their own pair of bald eagles hatching a newborn on a separate “eaglecam.” This took place despite some of the most extreme weather on record, and it brings to light a pattern that went viral in 2011 when an eaglet hatching in Decorah, Iowa was viewed by more than 200 million people across the planet.
With these new developments near Pittsburgh, Allegheny County has removed the American bald eagle from its threatened species list, and after averting extinction, with six adults reproducing and presumably many more which are yet unseen, there is new hope spreading that this Avian royalty will return in abundance.
By Elijah Stephens