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Posted at 01:01 PM ET, 05/26/2011

Norfolk eaglets become Internet sensations


The eaglets were 1 week old in this picture. (Courtesy of the Norfolk Botanical Garden)
WAYNESBORO, Va. — “To baby eaglets: I hope you grow big and strong. Hope you get set free. P.S. Do not eat the paper.”

The message, written in pencil on a brown and white paper cutout of a bald eagle, came from a first-grader in Madisonville, La. It was among stacks of letters from well-wishers, children and adults alike, who’ve been tuning in to Eagle Cam at the Wildlife Center of Virginia.

Three 10-week-old eaglets, rescued from a nest at the Norfolk Botanical Garden after their mother was killed by an airplane, are the stars who have attracted thousands of viewers to the Wildlife Center’s website since they arrived four weeks ago.

On their first day at the center, about 30,000 visitors crashed the Wildlife Center’s Website, said Ed Clark, Wildlife Center president.

“About 175,000 people buried us with emails right after the birds got here,” he said.

The concerned eagle fans inundated the center with questions and complaints, some angry at first about the removal of the birds from the nest at the garden, a decision made by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries to save the babies.

The attention was a little overwhelming at first, said Clark, but he and his staff decided to go with it. They set up a live feed from the eaglet’s new nest out in the woods and the babies were back on webcam in two days. Clark began doing live chats online with fans.

“I did a 90-minute chat interview online, and just laid it all out for them,” he said. “I explained that if we didn’t take the babies, they would see at least one die, because the male (parent) wouldn’t be able to care for all of them by himself.”

The center’s recent plans to do more educational outreach online by upgrading software and hardware could not have been timed better. The devoted eagle watchers from around the world have “validated and reinforced” the efforts to have a stronger online presence, Clark said.

The eaglets’ parents were the first to hit the Big Time when they set up house in a pine tree at the garden six years ago. A web cam was set up, and wildlife lovers obsessively followed their adventures in babymaking.

Their most recent batch of eggs hatched successfully, but mom, with a fish in her mouth, was struck at the airport by an Air Wisconsin plane. The company donated a “significant contribution” toward the care of the eaglets.

Fans also have been generous. And they entered the Wildlife Center in the Chase Community Giving vote and the center won a $25,000 grant in Round 1. Round 2 continued until midnight last night - the center was in the running for $100,000 as of Wednesday afternoon.

“In five days we’ve increased our active donors by 25 percent,” Clark said. “That would be unrealistically ambitious goal for one year in a normal development program.”

Meanwhile, the eaglets are thriving in their caged nest in the woods. “In the morning, they’re like kids jumping up and down on the bed,” Clark said.

Information from: The Daily News Leader, http://www.newsleader.com.

By Associated Press  |  01:01 PM ET, 05/26/2011

 
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