Concerned viewers from across the country have been focusing on a Maine eagle nest featured on a webcam, demanding that wildlife professionals intervene to help an eaglet they say is not being fed properly by its parents.
But officials with the Biodiversity Research Institute, which has maintained the camera at a coastal nest site since 2006, and the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife say there will be no interference with the nest and no intervention on behalf of the eaglet.
Web viewers also say they watched as a second eaglet was killed by its sibling.
Ann Pegher of Pittsburgh called the BDN to voice her concern. She said she’s not typically an activist but was prompted to call after watching the webcam feed over the past few weeks.
“I spent all day [Monday] trying to contact every government agency, rescue agency,” Pegher said. “Nature is nature, I agree with that. But there are eagle cameras all over the country, and when there are eaglets in distress, action has been taken … it happens all the time. I don’t understand their lack of even considering doing anything. It’s just a cold-hearted, ‘No, we’re not going to interfere with nature.’ That I don’t understand.”
Eryn Call, a wildlife biologist who specializes in raptors for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, explained the department’s philosophy on Monday.
“The purpose of these cameras is to observe the natural process of nesting eagles,” Call said. “And that natural process includes fledglings dying, starving to death, being killed by their siblings, adults stopping feeding them if there’s not enough food, and sometimes it does involve a happy ending with both birds surviving.”
Call and Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife bird group leader Brad Allen said that nature is sometimes messy and that while viewing webcams such as Maine Eaglecam1 can be fascinating, they may illuminate aspects of the natural world that some find distasteful.
“I came up with an analogy to think of these webcams as a mirror reflecting what’s going on with all of the bald eagles in Maine,” Call said. “It’s not a baby monitor where at the first sign of something that we perceive as said, as humans we intervene.”
Maine has a long history of eagle research, including about 30 years of work by Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife biologist Charlie Todd. Todd is focusing on endangered species, but he did pass along an email of observations for Call to share.
Todd said the best outcome for an individual eaglet takes place when the parents are the ones providing care in the nest and on-the-wing training.
“Interventions break that bond, so they are always done only out of necessity,” Todd said. “Siblings can be hostile to each other when food resources are scarce, but at least the dominant bird survives. Past interventions are limited to circumstances like dead adults, destroyed nests, etc., where there is no hope without remedial action.”
Todd said that in this case, with one eaglet already dead, the damage has been done.
“There is no reason to intervene now since adults are still present, and the surviving eaglet has better odds for long-term survival by experiencing continued parental care and normal development,” Todd said. “Casual webcam viewers may not see an adult eagle, but this is also a natural outcome of normal development: Adults spend less time at the nest purposefully to encourage eaglet development. They are not absent, but simply watch more often from a distance.”
Commenters on the Biodiversity Research Institute website say that this pair of adult eagles has not provided well for its young in the past and an intervention is necessary.
Pegher agrees, but she did say that after fearing that the parents were not feeding the eaglet, the adults did take food to the nest over the weekend.
“If there’s an issue with parents not caring properly … you have that issue with any animal, including humans,” Pegher said. “I think it’s a cop-out [to not intervene], and I don’t think it enhances any kind of research.”
Pegher said she understands how nature works but expects humans to help when they can.
“I think when you’re viewing, you also have a responsibility and a duty to step in if necessary,” she said. “The big issue is determining when it is necessary.”
Patrick Keenan, Biodiversity Research Institute outreach director, could not immediately be reached for comment on Tuesday, but the group did acknowledge the concern of viewers in a website post on Monday.
“Regarding the many many inquiries, calls and concerns related to the nesting eagles and their offspring at this site, we do not intend to remove the remaining eagle chick from the nest,” the statement reads. “We have been in contact with many individuals and agencies to determine the best path forward after one chick perished over the weekend … while we understand the strong urge to intervene in circumstances that may be difficult to observe, there are many reasons — biological, ethical and legal — to allow nature to take its course.”
A similar situation developed in Minnesota recently and was featured in a New York Times story over the weekend. In that case, Minnesota’s governor did intervene after receiving pressure from webcam watchers. An eaglet was taken from the nest, and biologists determined that it had a severely injured wing. It was euthanized.
And in May, an adult female eagle and her presumed mate each fell ill in Bangor, apparently after ingesting a toxin. The male flew into a power line and was electrocuted.
Call said that situation called for a different approach.
“There was clear evidence of contaminants, of some sort of poison that they were exposed to — a human cause of that situation,” Call said. “We felt more obligated because of the human cause to intervene in that situation, where this is a natural process of birds, of one dying and one potentially not being fed by the parents.”