Goats and birdwatchers are helping to restore Clayton Hill in Frick Park


Clayton Hill is for the birds — and the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy needs your help keeping tabs on them.

While ecologists work to restore the three-acre area in Frick Park, they’re asking eagle-eyed visitors to use the free eBird app to record the species they see there.

“We’re hoping to crowdsource the data. It’s a much-needed way to engage the public,” says Erin Copeland, a senior restoration ecologist with the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy.

Clayton Hill is overrun with invasive and non-native plants such as bush honeysuckle, mile-a-minute, Oriental bittersweet and garlic mustard. This vegetation creates deep shade, preventing the germination of native species. Birds flock to the spot because it appears to be a good place to live and feed, but the berries are a low-nutrient food source.

Through a Five Star and Urban Waters Restoration Program grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy hired a herd of 11 goats from Allegheny GoatScape to browse the area.

Photo courtesy of Allegheny GoatScape.

Their first feast took place in 2017 and they’ll chow down again in August, October and in 2021. The hungry ungulates will gobble up the intruders and make room for Copeland to plant native shrubs and trees which attract moths and butterflies. Caterpillars are a favorite meal for migratory and breeding birds.

Staff and researchers at the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Powdermill Nature Reserve and the University of Pittsburgh are exploring how goats improve the biodiversity of vegetation and the bird community. The success of this project will be tracked by monitoring changes to the plant and bird communities.

Goats have been used around the country to browse forests for fire control, to maintain utility right of ways and to manage invasive plant species, but Copeland says their efficacy is largely anecdotal. The information gathered during this project will give researchers more insight into their effectiveness.

When the goats are on-site, an electric fence and safety signage will be posted around Clayton Hill, which was designed as an  important destination point for park visitors arriving at the main entrance on Beechwood Boulevard.

The overall goal for Clayton Hill is to create a full forest canopy, which is what’s best for both human visitors and creatures living in the 644-acre Frick Park.

“There aren’t many places in Pittsburgh that have core forests without roads through them,” Copeland says. “I live in the city and I value the diversity and the culture, but at the same time, I need green space to rejuvenate my soul.”

Kristy Locklin