Wilson Bridge Eagles

No Sign of Young Life in Nest

By D'Vera Cohn
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 11, 2006

An attempt by a male bald eagle to tend his nest near the Woodrow Wilson Bridge on his own after his mate was attacked by another bird ended in failure yesterday.

The bald eagle, known as George, had sat on the pair's eggs since Wednesday's attack, and late last week he appeared to be feeding a chick in the nest in a tree on the Maryland shore of the Potomac River. Even though odds were against it, there was hope he could hold out until his mate, Martha, returned from a Delaware veterinary hospital, where she is recuperating from her injuries. Male and female eagles split parenting duties about equally.

Yesterday, George no longer sat on the nest, although he fended off birds that flew near, said Stephanie R. Spears, an environmental specialist with the bridge construction project. Her theory is that a chick hatched but was done in by Saturday's chilly, wet weather and lack of food. The male could not leave the nest to find food because of the rain and potential predators, including the bird that attacked his mate.

"I was hoping for a quick recovery of the female and that the male would hang in there long enough to save the clutch, but this is nature, and that's how nature goes," she said.

The bird that attacked Martha is thought to be another female that wanted to take over her territory, because available habitat is shrinking and the bird population is rising. Spears saw another eagle soaring near George yesterday, and if it is a female, they could become a pair.

Meanwhile, Martha's condition has improved rapidly. "I still think she is sore," said Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research's executive director, Chris Motoyoshi, "but she looks really good, and if all goes well she might be released within the week."

The female eagle is eating on her own and appears stronger. She was moved to an outdoor cage and "has flown a little bit," Motoyoshi said.

The timing and location of Martha's release is up to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which oversees the nation's bald eagle population. Craig Koppie, a biologist with the agency, said that releasing Martha to her old territory, although standard procedure, "is asking for round No. 2. . . . I have the feeling nature is going to do what nature does, and the strongest will survive."

The eagle drama was a prime topic of conversation among construction workers on the Wilson Bridge project, many of whom have watched the two since they began raising chicks in 1999. Several left fresh fish for George to help him out.

"In nature, this is probably something that has repeated itself time and time again, but because this happens to be right along the Beltway, we were able to witness this firsthand," Koppie said.

The deck was stacked against George's attempt to be a single parent because adult eagles must stay close to their chicks to keep them warm yet hunt regularly to keep them well-fed. Spears said George "has done everything he could to hang in there. He certainly put himself on the line. . . . He was a real trouper."

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