Don German knows so, so much about bald eagles. The one question the U.S. Steel Corp. Mon Valley Works Irvin and Fairless plant manager cannot answer with exact certainty, though, is when Claire, the female who nests with her partner, Irvin, on a sycamore tree at his plant, will lay eggs this year.

But from the nearly five years the pair has made Irvin Works their home, he can make a solid prediction: German believes USS Steel 7 should appear around Tuesday or Wednesday. And if Claire repeats her past pattern of maternal deliveries, USS Steel 8 will follow between 72 and 96 hours later.

Robert Bevans’ photograph of Irvin, one of the bald eagles nesting on the Mon Valley Works Irvin Plant, features prominently on the company-union safety banner near the plant’s entrance. (Alexandra Wimley/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

The dedication to the two bald eagles and interest in America’s bird is evident at the West Mifflin plant, from the company-union safety banner that features River Pump House technician Robert Bevan’s photograph of Irvin in flight at the plant entrance to the monitors throughout it that feature the PixCams live feed of the nest. And interest extends far beyond the borough with the feed’s 31,800 subscribers. Right now they can add their prediction in the egg pool on the chat there, guessing the day and time when the 2024 egg finally appears.

Log on to that live feed, and it’s hard not to keep coming back again and again to watch those two magnificent birds. It seems morning and later in the afternoon is the best time to see them in their milieu. Once eggs are laid, an eagle will be in the nest for the next 120 days.

It’s also not hard to feed off German’s enthusiasm for the bald eagles. Just attend one of his many presentations in the area — to schools, libraries, senior citizens center and more — and see. He averages 35 of those a year where he presents facts and tales about Claire and Irvin in such a fun and engaging way that attendees long remember them. And more often than not, they end up subscribing to the live feed and joining the Steel City Eagles Facebook page

U. S. Steel Mon Valley Irvin Works and Fairless plant manager Don German drives through plant property to the site of a bald eagle nest. (Alexandra Wimley/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

German first learned about the nest when Bevan came to his office with a stack of photos of the eagles. He had noticed them building the nest. The first eaglet hatched there in 2020.

Bevan gave his plant manager a list of names of people and contacts to take the next steps of protecting the nest and sharing the bald eagles beyond the plant via a fixed camera, including those involved with the well-known Hays nest. That group connected him with Bill Powers of PixCams, based in Murrysville. To obtain a special-use camera permit, German had to complete an eight-page application with the Pennsylvania Game Commission. The Irvin Works nest camera received approval, and a few rules came with it: Irvin Works employees could only be close to the nest from September to November when the bald eagles fly off for a while and the juveniles have fledged and left, and U.S. Steel had to have an education program for the site in place.

Powers visited the rolling mill, and he and German decided to place to a camera on a branch just right of the nest. To get electricity to it there, German’s workers lifted the railroad tracks and dug a trench. Later, U.S. Steel IT employees figured out the wi-fi for the livestream. The work took from June to December 2021 to install cam one. Today, three cameras focus on the nest. Right now only the first camera is operating because of some firewall restrictions, an issue German hopes to resolve soon.

U. S. Steel Mon Valley Works Irvin Plant manager Don German points out various bird nesting boxes and nest platforms around plant property in West Mifflin. (Alexandra Wimley/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

The 600-acre plant is high above the Monongahela River, and German said that gives Claire and Irvin a great location to hunt for fish and other animals for their meals. The plant’s grounds include a half-acre pond constructed around 1996 that is filled with fish and attracts ducks, geese and blue herons. An Eagle Scout added a shelter with solar panels next to the pond to power a fountain there; the water comes from piped-in runoff from the roadway above the plant.

When Pittsburgh Union Progress journalists visited, he said some ducks have disappeared, maybe snagged by the eagles. “Circle of life, I guess. … We don’t know for sure. We started with 14 mallards and now have about eight,” German said.

Some of the 850 Irvin Works employees watch over and work with him to protect the eagles, especially after Claire was knocked off the nest by a great horned owl traveling at about 40 mph two years ago. They built box platforms for the owls to use — or steal — instead that are evident in some trees. It’s just a fact of their nature, he said. The owls want to steal the eagles’ nest, and the eagles will try to steal the red tail hawk nests.

A duck nesting box has been placed on a half-acre pond at U. S. Steel Mon Valley Irvin Works plant in West Mifflin. (Alexandra Wimley/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Lots of wildlife — deer, bobcats, turkeys and more — visit the grounds, he said, and employees know there are 77 different types of birds on the property, including three endangered or protected status species — those great horned owls, peregrine falcons and the bald eagles. Lots of red tail hawks fly around and nest there, too. Employees have planted fruit and evergreen trees on the grounds, and the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission’s project to extend the Mon-Fayette Expressway through West Mifflin took part of the Irvin Works property, removing trees and other vegetation. Dirt has been moved around to plant more once spring arrives. Workers constructed 30 bluebird boxes, too, spread throughout the property.

The next project: a Monarch butterfly sanctuary to be constructed near the plant hospital, German said.

U.S. Steel employees posted signs to warn trespassers and protect the bald eagle nest at the U.S. Steel Mon Valley Works Irvin Plant in West Mifflin. (Alexandra Wimley/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Monitors placed strategically throughout the plant let Irvin Works employees watch the eagles. And so are other company employees at the Downtown headquarters, its other Mon Valley plants in Clairton and Braddock, and the Detroit, Gary and Granite City plants.

“We are honored to have the bald eagles living comfortably at our facility, where U. S. Steel products, mined, melted and made in America, are finished,” said Andrew Fulton, a U.S. Steel media representative. “The presence of the eagles, as well as other wildlife, is a testament to our employees’ commitment to creating and maintaining an environment where these animals can thrive.”  

German and Tracey Feagins, the Irvin Works inventory control administrator, plus three others operate the cameras. Six moderators — all volunteers — answer questions on the site’s chat. A live chat and fun eagle trivia contest take place every day at 1 p.m. “They enjoy eagles and sharing information about them,” German said.

He understands. After seeing Bevan’s photos and seeing the first two juveniles in the nest, “I was hooked at that point. [And] I knew nothing about eagles.”

That certainly has changed for the 34-year U.S. Steel employee who became Irvin Works and Fairless plant manager in 2018. 

The avid bow hunter largely is self-taught about bald eagles, especially from the information provided on the PixCams chats. In his talks, he explains how to tell the birds apart — among other things, Claire’s head feathers look as if she had mousse applied — and other bald eagle facts, including:

  • The female is the bigger bird. Claire most likely weighs about 12 or 14 pounds.
  • The female bald eagle is the nest’s engineer. The videos prove this with Irvin bringing sticks to the nest, which she grabs and works into just the right place.
  • Those nests just keep growing from year to year. On average, German said, the Irvin Works bald eagles typically add about 400 sticks to their nest annually; they don’t rebuild. The nest is 100 feet up that sycamore tree.
  • Bald eagles fly at a top speed of between 35 to 43 mph. Irvin has the nest record for catching a fish in 47 seconds. When PUP visited, Claire caught a fish in the middle of the river. It was too heavy to fly with, so she swam halfway across the Monongahela River with it to reach shore. Her YouTube video garnered more than a thousand views.
  • The male bald eagle delivers fish gifts to his partner in December and January prior to the eggs’ appearance. “It’s proof that the male is worthy,” German said at a Jefferson Hills Library presentation last month, and he is providing for Claire.
  • Both eagles take turns keeping the eggs warm, not moving off much, even when it snows. Mom and dad do not crack the egg; the baby does that with an egg tooth in what’s called an internal pip. That’s when the baby takes its first breath and mom can hear her baby moving inside the egg.
  • When the eagles play, it’s like “Top Gun,” he said. They can soar to 10,000 feet up in the air.
  • Their eyes are as large as human eyes. But they can see four to five times better than a human and can spot a rabbit 2 miles away.
  • Their talons are at least 2 inches long.
  • Juvenile bald eagles fledge in June or July. German said their parents teach them to hunt and fish so they can survive on their own. Only male juveniles come back to visit the nest once it’s time to find mates, he said.
  • And the one the children like best: Eagles can poop a distance of 11½ feet. So stand back, German said.
The bald eagle nest and one of the livestream cameras at the U.S. Steel Mon Valley Works Irvin Plant in West Mifflin. (Alexandra Wimley/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

He brings lots of demonstration items to his talks: a wooden version of the bald eagles’ wing span, replica eggs and talons, and the most popular item: squeezable Claire and Irvin toys given to attendees. German just bought an eagle’s skull replica to add to his talks.

German explains as well to his audiences how a young female, named Rosie, had to be rescued in June 2022 off of the mill site when a sibling knocked her off the nest mistakenly. German, Tamarack Wildlife Center and game commission personnel worked to capture her. After a short stay at Humane Animal Rescue, she moved on to Tamarack in Saegertown in July, where staff replaced her 10 broken feathers with donor feathers, a procedure called imping. After learning to fly again and gaining stamina, she was released near the Pymatuning Reservoir that October.

In gratitude, German said, U.S. Steel donated $20,000 to the nonprofit center near Erie, money used to purchase an X-ray machine it needed.

Just a few months ago, U.S. Steel staff collaborated with PixCams and Duquesne Light to extend electricity to the Hays nest cameras, which had relied on solar power and marine batteries for its operations.

It’s been a journey for bald eagles, which had dwindled in population because of DDT poisoning and lead poisoning, as well as deaths from collisions, fish-hook ingestion, and electrocution from power lines and towers. From a low point of just three nests, the state now boasts more than 450 nests, German said.

His love of eagles extends to his personal life. The 56-year-old Jefferson Hills resident and his wife, an avid photographer who loves to take pictures of eagles, visited Conowingo Dam in Maryland, a well-known migration spot for the birds from farther north, last March to check the bald eagles there.  

“There were still over 150 eagles there. [We] loved it. My wife and I will bike the river trails and look for eagles. There is a nest in Smithton, Boston, Hays, and the list goes on. We do really enjoy it,” German said.

Don German’s upcoming public programs on the Irvin Works bald eagles as listed on the PixCams site include: Monroeville Public Library, March 5 from 7-8:30 p.m.; Cranberry Public Library, March 26 at 6:30 p.m.; Norwin Library, April 18 at 6 p.m.; Rachel Carson Homesetad Garden Club, Springdale, April 20, at 10 a.m.-1 p.m.; Homestead Garden Club, April 18 at 11 a.m.; Westmoreland Bird and Nature Club, May 7 at 7:30 p.m.; the Clintonville Grange, May 14 at 6 p.m.; and Moon Township Parks and Recreation on June 6 at 11 a.m. He will also be at the Children’s Heart Walk, North Shore, on June 23 from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., handing out the squeezable eagles as U.S. Steel Corp. is the main sponsor. Lesson plans for teachers can also be found on the PixCams site.

Irvin, the male bald eagle, looks out over the Monongahela River from a perch near the nest in a sycamore tree. (Alexandra Wimley/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Helen is a copy editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but she's currently on strike. Contact her at

Helen Fallon

Helen is a copy editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but she's currently on strike. Contact her at