Snow, human activity threaten Hancock County eagle nest

Posted April 02, 2011, at 5:56 p.m.
Last modified April 03, 2011, at 5:15 p.m.
A still image from the Biodiversity Research Institute Nextera Maine Eagle Cam 1' webcam shows one of the adult eagles on a nest located at an undisclosed site in Hancock County. Researchers are concerned that recent activity around the site along with Friday's heavy snow storm may have affected the chances that the egg will hatch.
Photo courtesy of Biodiversity Research Institute
A still image from the Biodiversity Research Institute Nextera Maine Eagle Cam 1' webcam shows one of the adult eagles on a nest located at an undisclosed site in Hancock County. Researchers are concerned that recent activity around the site along with Friday's heavy snow storm may have affected the chances that the egg will hatch.
Photo courtesy of Biodiversity Research Institute
Photo courtesy of Biodiversity Research Institute
Photo courtesy of Biodiversity Research Institute

ELLSWORTH, Maine — Although the male eagle at a nest site in Hancock County remained on the nest throughout the heavy snowstorm on Friday, observers say they are concerned about the egg the nesting pair laid there last month.

Activity during the week around the nest site, the location of which has not been disclosed, along with the snowstorm, may have determined the fate of that egg. The Biodiversity Research Institute in Gorham monitors the site through its Nextera Maine Eagle Cam1 which provides live images and sound from the nest site.

“The outlook is less positive in terms of success,” Patrick Keenan, BRI’s outreach director and coordinator of the institute’s webcam program, said Saturday. “There has been a lot of activity around the nest lately.”

The female eagle laid the egg on March 25. Given an incubation period of about 35 days, the egg would hatch at the end of April or early May.

There were indications earlier in the week that something might be amiss at the nest, Keenan said. The eagles left the nest for almost an hour on Monday and on Wednesday, and there was some human activity around the nest site, including sounds of a chain saw and some whistling at the eagles.

According to Keenan, the male eagle was attacked by another eagle Thursday and again early Friday before the worst of the storm. That type of activity could have disturbed the egg, he said.

“It’s hard to say whether there was any single event that affected the viability of the egg; and it’s hard to pinpoint what determines whether an egg remains viable,” he said. “Just seeing the egg exposed for a long period of time in the cold weather is not a good sign. The storm may have been the straw that broke the eagle’s back.”

The activity levels at the site, which is on private property, are not all that unusual, according to Keenan.

“I think this activity is typical of the kinds of things eagles are facing at some 500 nests that exist in the state,” he said. “Other eagle’s nests are facing the same or very similar situations.”

There also is some indication that the adult eagle pair may be a different pair than those that produced chicks in 2006, and that they could be young eagles. They are in full adult plumage, so they are at least 4 years old, Keenan said.

“It’s possible that this could be their first or second breeding attempt,” he said. “It can often take some time for them to learn nesting practices.”

The egg may still be viable and the eagle pair may still remain on the nest, even if the egg is not going to produce a chick, Keenan said.

The institute began monitoring the nest in Hancock County in 2006 when it captured footage of a pair of nesting eagles hatching two nestlings that survived. In 2007, a three-day snowstorm resulted in the loss of chicks that already had hatched.

No eggs had been laid since 2007, but there was a lot of activity including what appeared to be territorial disputes.

The nest and the eagles can be observed on the BRI website, www.briloon.org.

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