It was inevitable, from the moment video cameras went up over Pittsburgh area bald eagle nests, that viewers would eventually see something disturbing.
On Tuesday, eagles at the nest site in the Hays neighborhood brought a young cat into the nest to feed their two eaglets.
"After reviewing the footage, we believe the cat was dead when it was brought to the nest," said Rachel Handel, spokeswoman for the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania. "We don't know if it was a pet or feral. It's impossible to know if the cat was killed by the eagle or was a roadkill, but eagles are opportunists and just as apt to take something that's already dead as something that's alive to feed their young."
On regional eagle chat boards, some were squeamish or disturbed that the scene was live-streamed on a popular viewing site. Others speculated about the meal's identity until Handel turned the event into a learning moment.
"While many may cringe at this, the eagles bring squirrels, rabbits, fish (and other animals) into the nest to eat multiple times each day," she said, via Facebook. "To people, the cat represents a pet, but to the eagles and to other raptors, the cat is a way to sustain the eaglets and help them to grow."
Pittsburgh eagle watchers have experienced other uncomfortable moments. A raccoon unsuccessfully attacked the Hays nest in 2014. No eggs survived the winter of 2015 at the Hays and Harmar sites, and this year one of three eggs did not survive at the Hays site. Recently, at a monitored bald eagle nest in Hanover, York County, viewers watched as a 2-day-old eaglet died on camera. Its carcass was eventually tossed from the nest.
"The live stream provides an opportunity to view wildlife in its natural setting," said Game Commission spokesman Travis Lau, via an April 1 statement about the Hanover eaglet. "Sometimes, that may include scenes that are difficult to watch. The Game Commission will not intervene in this situation."
Handel said that in the new age of live-streaming wildlife cameras, humans are gaining a better appreciation of nature.
"The cameras are up 24/7 and can show a side of nature that isn't really pretty," she said.
"A lot of people have an idyllic view of these eagles. I think the eagle cameras are providing an education of what it takes to survive and raise offspring in nature."
About six weeks since hatching, the two Hays siblings have grown so big they nearly take up the entire nest. Handel said they and the Harmar birds, now about 2 weeks old, are progressing normally.