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April 27, 2011: Orphaned Eagles

by Bob Sallinger

kgw.com

Posted on April 27, 2011 at 1:58 PM

Lots of questions regarding the Eaglecam in Northfolk, Virginia. The mother was killed after colliding with an airplane earlier in the week and the three young eaglets were removed from  the nest this morning and transfered to a local wildlife rehabilitation center where they will be raised and eventually release back to the wild. The decision to intervene was made by the state and federal wildlife agencies after they determined that the father would be unlikely to be able to successfully provide for three young alone.

These kinds of situations are always difficult judgement calls. Agencies tend to be extra cautious with species that are either on or were recently removed from the endanged species list such as bald eagles and peregrine falcons.

Three eaglets is a heavy load for a single parent to carry but it is not inconceivable that some or all would have made it though. They were big enough that they no longer required brooding to keep warm, but they also would have required a steady stream of food provided by the remaining parent. The male would have had to work very hard to pull off the nest alone. The argument in favor of leaving them in place is that if the male was able to provide for them, they would have had a chance to learn their hunting and other life skills from him. Many of an eagle's survival skills are learned by watching and immitating their parents. No matter how good of a job we do in capivity, it never comes anywhere near matching what the parents can provice.

So in the end it is a trade-off: By removing the eagles, you eliminate the chance that they starve in the nest, but you reduce the chance that they will survive their first year alone in the wild after release because they have not had the critical parental training they need. Alternatively leaving them in place puts them at risk of starvation in the short run but gives them a better chance at surviving in the long run if they do make it through the nesting process. In this case the wildlife agencies made the decision that the short-term risk outweighed the potential benefits of leaving them in place. Seems like a reasonable course of action to me...

Reminds me of a local story...several years ago we had to remove peregrine falcon eggs from the Interstate Bridge after the male adult was hit by a car. We don't usually "rescue" eggs, but peregrines were at the time still an endangered species. The eggs were actually exposed to a cold driving rain and temperatures in the 40's for more than 5 hours. The only way to get to the top of the bridge at the time was to ride the lift span up and down because the access stairs were under construction. In order to lift the span, the bridge tenders had to stop traffic....at rush hour no less. I remember standing at the top of the bridge with the wind and rain howling in my face hugging a box containing the eggs inside my jacket while we waited to get lowered back down thinking that there was no hope that the eggs would hatch. None the less when we returned to Audubon we stuck them in an incubator and a few weeks later we had three healthy peregrine chicks!

 

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