02.13.2014Personal Tech

Roadtreking With Mike Wendland: Watching Bald Eagles Thanks to 4G LTE

There are few sights as majestic as a Bald Eagle. But in Pittsburgh, where a nesting pair have set up shop in a tree within sight of downtown, it’s even more exciting. Experts say it’s been more than 250 years since Bald Eagles lived in the area, but now, thanks to a high tech webcam and Verizon’s 4G LTE network, they’re for all the world to see.

The installation was made in December by a company called Pix Industries, which deployed one of its special Pix Controller covert surveillance cameras on another tree, about 20 yards from the eagle nest.

Working with the Pennsylvania Game Commission, the company uses solar power to keep the batteries charged and to send out an audio and video feed of what it sees via Verizon’s 4G LTE network. See exactly what I mean in this video:

The Bald Eagle video feed can be accessed by anyone at http://www.pixcontroller.com/eagles.

“This is really exciting,” said Bill Powers, president and CEO of Pix Industries. “To have two bald eagles in the area is rare indeed, but to be able to observe them like this without disturbing them is even better. This is a great educational resource for school children and wildlife researchers, and it's just plain fun to watch.”

Indeed it is. The pair of eagles have been busily expanding their nest. The female is expected to lay eggs by the end of February, and if all goes well, there will be chicks by spring.

Powers said the biggest challenge was in getting the camera’s signal back to the controllers that in turn broadcast it on the Internet.

“We tried another wireless provider early on, but we just couldn’t get the reliability we needed,” he said. “The feed was choppy and sometimes dropped off. So we went to Verizon and its 4G LTE network, and once that happened, it was like night and day. We have a solid, reliable video and audio feed. It’s like you are right in the nest with them.”

The story of the eagles is inspiring. Their nest is about five miles from downtown Pittsburgh, right along the Monongahela River near where the famed Carnegie Steel Homestead site once existed.

Just a few years ago, this was hardly a location that could be called wild.

Heavy industrialization had led to extensive unregulated pollution of the rivers, which in turn decimated the fish populations that eagles feed on.

“For example,” notes Powers, “during a survey on Monongahela River in 1967, one scientist could find only one bluegill. As efforts to clean the waterways took effect over the past 30 years, 76 species of fish have been found in the Monongahela. Experts say it has probably been more than two-and-a-half centuries since Bald Eagles last nested along Pittsburgh’s three rivers.”

The camera system was installed on December 20, 2013. Ten Pennsylvania Game Commission conservation officers worked on the project with Pix Industries. Verizon has donated the data plan and bandwidth to stream the video signal ,and their partner, Sierra Wireless, donates the 4G Gateway for the project.

Here’s some great Bald Eagle FAQs, offered by Powers’ company:

  • How can you tell the male from the female Bald Eagle? The female is slightly larger than the male. In the case of the Bald Eagles on the webcam, the male has a noticeable white spot on the right side.
  • Adult birds range from 35" to 37" tall with a wingspan of 72" to 90" and weigh between 10 to 14 pounds.
  • Their diet consists of mainly fish, but they will take advantage of carrion they can find.
  • The female lays one-to-three eggs five-to-10 days after mating. For Bald Eagles in the area, they should expect eggs between February and March. The eggs are incubated for about 35 days.
  • The nest is between 6' - 8' in diameter and can weigh up to one ton.
  • Bald Eagles typically mate for life and have a 20-30 year lifespan.
  • Bald Eagles do not reach maturity until they are four-to-five years old, at which time they develop the white head and tail feathers.

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