Last year, a young bald eagle fledged from a nest within the city limits of Pittsburgh for the first time in perhaps 200 years or more.
And in the months that led up to that moment, hundreds looked on from a distance.
This year, a pair of eagles is nesting near the same site and countless more onlookers can follow along - this time with a bird's-eye view, and from within the comfort of their own homes.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission, in cooperation with Pix Controller Inc., has installed a video camera high above a nest two bald eagles have built along the Monongahela River in what is known as the Hays section of Pittsburgh.
A pair of bald eagles has nested in the Hays section of Pittsburgh and on Wednesday, the nest received its first egg. In the coming weeks and months, viewers can watch the action unfold. Footage from a camera positioned on the nest is being live-streamed on the Pennsylvania Game Commission's website by Pix Controller Inc. Photos courtesy of Pix Controller Inc. and the Pennsylvania Game Commission
Live footage from the camera is being streamed on the Game Commission's website. The eagle pair's appearances at the nest have become more and more frequent since the live-streaming began in late December. And on late Wednesday afternoon, something else appeared - a freshly laid egg.
The hope, of course, is that a healthy eaglet will fledge the nest, and the camera will capture every second of it.
There are no guarantees the story will have a happy ending. But the live stream offers a rare, real-life look at an unfolding natural wonder.
Streaming footage is available on the homepage of the Game Commission's website, www.pgc.state.pa.us. Scroll to the bottom of the page and click the "Play" icon to see real-time footage of the nest.
In good weather conditions, the live stream will be available round-the-clock. In colder temperatures, the video equipment must be shut down for brief periods, so if you have trouble accessing the live stream, just check back later.
The nest featured on the live stream was built new in recent months after a branch gave way under the nest used in the same area last year.
Last year's nest didn't offer as up-close a view, though many people would congregate regularly along a nearby bicycle trail to view the nest through binoculars. Because there wasn't a good vantage point inside the nest, however, eagle-watchers could only judge from the mating pair's changed behavior that an eaglet had been hatched. It took weeks to confirm suspicions.
With the camera in place, however, online viewers were able to verify the exact moment an egg was laid.
Video of the egg being laid has been posted to YouTube, and can be found easily by searching "Hays eagles egg." Other highlights from the nesting attempt so far also have been posted to the site.
While viewers always are welcome online, those making trips to view bald-eagle nests in person are reminded to keep their distance.
Different pairs of eagles have different levels of tolerance for human activity near nests. Nests like the one in Hays, which are built in spots with a lot of surrounding bustle, often offer opportunities to view from a distance without invading the eagles' comfort zone.
But federal safeguards exist to protect nesting eagles, and persons encroaching a 660-foot perimeter around a nest are in violation of federal law.
Signs are posted around many known nest sites, but the rules apply regardless of whether signs are posted.
Approaching an eagle nest too closely could frighten off the adults and cause them to abandon the nest or prevent them from keeping eggs at the proper incubating temperature. Frightened eaglets might also jump from the safety of a nest, then have no way to return.
More tips on nest-viewing etiquette can be found on the bald-eagle page of the Pennsylvania Game Commission's website, www.pgc.state.pa.us.
Bald eagles in Pennsylvania
The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners at its January meeting gave final approval to a proposal to remove the bald eagle from the state's list of threatened species.
Game Commission staff in September recommended the change based on the bald eagle's remarkable recovery in Pennsylvania, and the fact that the commission's bald-eagle management plan calls for upgrading the bald eagle to "protected" status when all of four criteria measuring the health of the state's bald-eagle population have been met for a five-year period.
Removing bald eagles from the state threatened species list neither hinders eagle populations in Pennsylvania nor knocks off course the species' comeback here, said Game Commission endangered-bird biologist Patti Barber.
The bird continues to be protected under the federal Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (Eagle Act), the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and the Lacey Act. Under the Eagle Act, those who harm or disturb eagles are subject to a civil penalty of up to one year in jail or a $5,000 fine for their first offense, and criminal convictions can result in fines as high as $250,000.
Additionally, state penalties for disturbing protected wildlife include fines of up to $1,500 and bolster protection for Pennsylvania eagles.
Bald eagles have come a long way in the 30-plus years since the Game Commission first began efforts to restore them to Pennsylvania. In 1983, when the Game Commission launched what would become a seven-year restoration program, only three pairs of nesting bald eagles remained in Pennsylvania - all of them in Crawford County in the northwestern part of the state along the Ohio border.
This year, there were more than 270 known bald-eagle nests statewide.
A 22-minute film celebrating the bald eagle's success is available at the Game Commission's website. From the homepage, click on the icon title "PA Eagles 30 Years of Restoration."