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Orphaned bald eaglets get a second chance

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Florida Wild Mammal Association helps care for fallen eaglets after nest toppled in storm

Special to The News

A month-old orphaned bald eaglet has been adopted by two non-releasable adult bald eagles at the Wildlife Sanctuary of Northwest Florida (WSNF) since attempts last week to reunite it with its original parents were unsuccessful. This eaglet is now being cared for by foster parents, Apollo and Winnie, who are permanently injured adult bald eagles and residents of the WSNF.
The eaglet’s sibling is also currently recovering at WSNF from a fractured leg and wing, and will be placed with foster eagle parents, Amelia and Junior, as soon as medically stable. Both eaglets are off display to the public due to the need to keep them wild and will be reunited later when they are ready to be released. Video cameras at the Sanctuary allow viewing of the eagle family without any disturbance.
The amazing story of these eaglets begins on St. George Island with eagle “neighbors” Kevin and Chantel Burdett along with Lauren Levi and Kenny Piotrowski, who rescued the two fallen eaglets in the hours after a severe January storm that toppled their nest tree. The eaglets were transported to wildlife rehabilitator Chris Beatty of the Florida Wild Mammal Association (FWMA) in Crawfordville for emergency care by ANERR.
Initially, Chris stabilized both eaglets, offered them food, and applied a splint to Eaglet 2’s leg, which was fractured in the fall. She contacted Dorothy Kaufmann at the WSNF for her expertise in managing bald eagle rehabilitation cases, and the eaglets were transported the next day.
Jenna Harper, Manager of the ANERR FL Coastal Office/DEP, commented, “In Franklin County we are blessed to live within pristine natural surroundings with wildlife at your back door. It is so special to call these creatures ‘neighbors’ and it is difficult to see them struggle. This was such a unique opportunity for the community to come together and help out their neighbors in need.”
Eaglet 1 was uninjured, so planning began to try returning this healthy eaglet to a replacement nest built and secured in an adjacent tree by a coordinated effort between 3 state agencies, 2 wildlife rehabilitators, 1 veterinarian, the largest electric utility in the country, 1 bucket truck, several concerned citizens, 1 retiree, and 1 federal agency to attempt to reunite this eaglet with its parents: the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Franklin County Extension (UF/IFAS); the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission; the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; several neighbors living in sight of the original nest; the retired director of Audubon EagleWatch (AEW); the FWMA and the WSNF.
“When Chris called I immediately thought of an acquaintance who worked as a lineman for Duke Energy. He put me in touch with his Supervisor. It wasn’t long before we had our ducks (or eaglets) in a row for a coordinated effort to try and reunite parents with chicks”, said Erik Lovestrand, Director, UF/IFAS Franklin County Extension.
Attending veterinarian Dr. Tommy Knight of Westside Animal Hospital determined Eaglet 1 was healthy enough to attempt a reunion with its parents. The new eagle nest site selection was determined between Erik Lovestrand of UF/IFAS, Lauren Levi of ANERR, and Lynda White of AEW, who also provided guidance for the design of the replacement nesting platform. Supplies for the platform were provided by Jenna Harper of ANERR, and the platform was constructed by local carpenter Kenny Piotrowski. The nesting platform was secured in the new nest tree and Eaglet 1 placed in the new nest by Duke Energy representatives. Eagle neighbor Kevin Burdett also played an important role in encouraging the adult eagles to remain in the nesting area by playing taped audio calls/vocalizations of their eaglets. Others attending the attempted eagle reunion monitored the activity and remained in an inconspicuous location awaiting the adult eagles return.
“Duke Energy is proud to have been part of the effort to find these baby eagles find a new home,” said Daniel Collins, government and community relations manager with Duke Energy. “Our company is dedicated to being good stewards of the environment and we support local programs that help protect and restore wildlife and natural resources in Franklin County and throughout the nation. This is just one small way we were able to serve that mission.”
Weather seemed to dictate the little eaglet’s destiny. Just as the storm that blew both the tree and the nest that it had fallen from last week, the reunion day turned out to be very cold and rainy for all involved. Unfortunately, efforts to reunite the eaglet with its original parents were unsuccessful and Plan B was formulated to return the eaglet to WSNF so it could be raised by experienced eagle foster parents to have the best chance at a later release back to the wild.
“Though I know we are all very disappointed that the parents did not return, we all pulled together to try to help this young eaglet which was a very awesome experience. We were so honored to be amongst such a wonderful and caring group of people.” commented Chris Beatty, Florida Wild Mammal Association.
“I’m very glad Dorothy was able to take Eaglet 1 back to WSNF. Of course, we were all hoping the parents would return to the nest, but having such a qualified and experienced center with adult foster parents is the next best thing for this little guy. I know they will do their best to raise him correctly so he has the best chance for reintroduction to the wild.” said Jessica Beatty of FWMA.
Baby eagles are the fastest growing bird in North America, eating over a pound and a half of food daily, and remaining with their parents for 3-4 months after hatching. Within 3 months, both eaglets will be bigger than their adoptive parents, weighing up to 12 pounds, with a wingspan of 6 ½ - 8 feet and will have molted in over 7, 000 feathers. That staggering growth rate is why they require so much food intake!
 “How amazing that what seemed to be just a day about a single family of eagles…is actually an ongoing lesson in caring, awareness, and community”, said Dorothy Kaufmann, Director of the Wildlife Sanctuary of Northwest Florida, Inc., located in Pensacola.
“Unfortunately the parents did not return so the eaglets are now at a rehab facility in Pensacola with adult eagles,” Chris Beatty said.