NORFOLK -- The three eaglets which lost their mother Tuesday in a collision with a plane are out of the nest at Norfolk Botanical Garden and will soon be at their new home at the Wildlife Center of Virginia.
The process to remove the three eaglets began at 10:00 a.m. Wednesday and was concluded within an hour.
They'll be sent to the Waynesboro facility, which is home to Buddy, another Botanical Garden eagle that contracted Avian Pox.
DGIF spokesman Stephen Living told WVEC.com,"Without intervention, it is all but certain that one or more of these eaglets would not survive the next three months. Pulling the birds and sending them to the Wildlife Center gives them their best chance. The birds are already old enough to know that they are eagles and to recognize their siblings. Maintaining them as a family unit and releasing them together when they are ready to go will certainly improve their survival potential.”
While the male may be able to meet the needs of the chicks in the near term, the amount of food they will require as they grow will increase exponentially, likely exceeding the hunting capacity of even the most capable provider, officials said.
News of the mother's death shocked WVEC.com Eagle Cam viewers around the world.
With a crowd of people watching, the father of three eaglets born at Norfolk Botanical Garden returned to the nest at 6:45 p.m. Tuesday, nearly 10 hours after their mother died in a collision with a plane landing at Norfolk International.
He was busy feeding the youngsters again Wednesday morning, bringing a fish to the nest about 6:40 a.m.
After getting their food, the three were huddled together and sleeping, according to posts on the WVEC.com Eagle Cam discussion page.
"I'm literally, I'm shaking. I'm happy. I'm crying. I'm excited, you know, and I'm hoping he can take care of 'em," said Shelly Fowler after seeing the return.
Fowler is a photographer who has chronicled the lives of eagles at the botanical garden since 2004. She was among several people who stood in Renaissance Court watching the nest Tuesday evening.
"If he can take care of 'em for another month, you know, they'll make it," Fowler told 13News.
These eagles were well known through the Norfolk Botanical Garden Eagle Cam provided by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF), Norfolk Botanical Garden and WVEC, and have been at NBG since 2001 and have been featured on the Eagle Cam on WVEC.com since 2006.
Eagle Cam watcher Linda Eszenyi drove from Northern Virginia in hopes of getting a personal glimpse of the pair and their eaglets.
“They told me and I just had to go have a cry. I was so hurt and disappointed, not for just me but for everybody that watches,” Eszenyi said.
Reese Lukei, a research associate with the Center for Conservation Biology (CCB), has monitored and blogged about these eagles for ten years.
“It’s about like losing one of your kids,” Lukei described.
"It's heartbreaking, and I know we're not supposed to humanize them, but it's sad," noted Fowler. "Crushing."
DGIF management and other wildlife experts met Tuesday at the Botanical Garden to discuss the status of the eagle nest and whether the male can meet the needs of the eaglets.
“We are going to be watching this nest very closely over the coming days to see if he is able to provide regular feeding for the chicks,” Lukei stated.
The adult male eagle had been seen in a nearby tree Tuesday afternoon. To the relief of thousands of online Eagle Cam viewers, when he returned to the nest in evening, he fed a fish to the hungry eaglets.
There were concerns by biologists about whether the male can provide for the brood in the nest.
"These eaglets are right on the edge of being able to feed themselves if something is brought to the nest, but we will be watching to see if the male helps them eat. If he doesn't, they will likely have to come out of the nest," said Lukei.
Lukei said there are cases of single adult eagles raising broods on their own.
"They had a breakfast this morning, a big catfish, but with these temperatures we're having, if they are not fed eventually, they will become dehydrated," said Lukei.
One option that was considered was placing the eaglets in a foster nest to be with other eaglets of the same age. Lukei said that approach has been successful with other birds.
The plane strike happened sometime between 8:30 and 8:50 a.m. A US Airways regional jet coming from Philadelphia was preparing to land at 8:50 when the pilot reported the bird strike.
Shank says the eagle was reportedly feeding at Lake Whitehurst with another eagle when the strike was reported.
The plane landed safely and no one was hurt, said Shank. He added that there was minor damage to the aircraft.
Shank told WVEC.com that this is the second eagle strike in several weeks and fourth in 10 years; the others occurring in 2005 and 2002.
Shank said the airport is working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife office to see if anything can be done to protect airline passengers and wildlife.
The mother's remains are still at Norfolk Airport in a refrigerator until the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials decide what to do with them. He notes that the Norfolk Botanical Garden would like to have it mounted for display and that process has been started.
WILDLIFE CENTER OF VIRGINIA EAGLET CARE PLAN:
They will be placed in an artificial nest that has been constructed in the Center’s 200-foot eagle flight cage. Other adult Bald Eagle patients may also be in this enclosure. While the chicks will be separated by a physical barrier from direct contact with other eagles, the eaglets will be able to see other eagles flying and feeding. As they begin to fledge, the barrier will be removed and the young eagles will have full access to the long enclosure, to build their wing strength and to learn to fly. The goal would be to get the young eagles ready for release back into the wild in late summer.