- Associated Press - Saturday, April 19, 2014

PITTSBURGH (AP) - On a recent afternoon, Bill Powers perked up with excitement when his PixController Inc. webcam of the bald eagles’ nest in Hays reached an impressive benchmark.

“Wow, it hit a million,” he called out in his Murrysville office. “This is great for Pittsburgh. We have a viral page.”

The PixController Inc. eagles’ nest cam, broadcasting online since Dec. 20, and an osprey cam near Portland, Northampton County, are part of a pilot project involving the company and the Pennsylvania Game Commission in a public-private partnership. The goal is to use wildlife cams to advance research and education. But the popularity of the eagle cam has soared beyond expectations, capturing the public interest and imagination.

Weeks ago, after the mother eagle assaulted a raccoon trying to steal an egg, Powers sent video links to CBS, NBC, Fox and “Entertainment Tonight,” among others, which provided worldwide publicity that’s helped build the audience for the round-the-clock raptor soap opera. As of April 13, there were more than 1.1 million total views.

Other popular downloads show the eggs hatching (the last of the three eaglets hatched on April 2), nest attacks by a juvenile eagle and a red tail hawk, and the eaglets being fed a squirrel, fish and birds, especially a Harrison gull whose plucked feathers were everywhere in the nest, looking like snow.

The boon of the cam now has the state Game Commission considering installing webcams inside a bear den and a beaver lodge.

PixController, a small operation involving Powers and four employees, produces remote surveillance systems, motion-activated wildlife scouting cameras and wireless-triggered cellular and digital video recorder systems, with a more recent focus on wireless, remote security systems for industry, including shale gas wells.

The wildlife cams are done more out of passion than profit, said Powers, who also operates a series of screech-owl cams in Murrysville. He’s received some donations for the eagle cam, but he has borne most of the $5,000 cost.

In Hays, two solar panels recharge 400 pounds of batteries to power the eagle cam around the clock. A motion-activated security camera, trained on the equipment, already has led to five people being arrested for trespassing onto federally protected land around the eagles’ nest. On April 7, the cam went blank for more than three hours. But a reboot system unique to Powers‘ equipment allowed him to get it back online. Without that system, the cam would have been done for the season.

No details will be censored in the broadcasts, even if the eagles were to capture and deliver a kitten or puppy to their three dare-we-say ravenous eaglets. Powers and Game Commission officials also warn that the odds are against survival of all three eaglets.

It is this kind of drama that draws 10,000 to 15,000 unique computer views to the link at any one time. No computer is ever counted twice. The link is available at www.post-gazette.com.

Powers also said the audience makeup is 70 percent female, likely due to interest in the mother eagle, the laying of eggs and raising of eaglets on a wild high-protein diet of fish, fowl and game. Another attraction is the male eagle’s role in the monogamous relationship.

“It’s better than a zoo,” said Powers, who serves as president and CEO of PixController. “How many people have seen a bald eagle in their lifetime?”

Getting the eagle cam in place took about six years.

Powers initially failed to get Game Commission approval to place a cam inside a bear’s den because officials said it would unduly disturb the bear. But Powers was approached by a documentary filmmaker and Lynn Rogers, a wildlife biologist and founder of the North American Bear Center of the Wildlife Research Institute in Ely, Minn., to use a PixController webcam to produce streaming video of a hibernating black bear near the border of Minnesota and Canada in 2010. It followed the bear as it gave birth and then cared for its cub.

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