The Brangelina of Wilson Bridge's Bald Eagle Set

George is moving on after Martha's death, but perhaps a little too soon for bridge workers' liking.
George is moving on after Martha's death, but perhaps a little too soon for bridge workers' liking. (Potomac Crossing Consultants)
By Daniela Deane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 6, 2007

Martha is scarcely cold in the grave, and George has already shacked up with another bald eagle. Worse: It's the nestwrecker who tried to peck to death Martha, George's longtime mate and the mother of his 16 eaglets.

Even the brawny bunch of construction workers on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge project near the eagles' nest are aghast. They call the younger bird in George's life "Camilla," "Angelina" and "Charlotte the Harlot."

"George has taken a second wife," said John Undeland, spokesman for the bridge project. "He's moving on with his life."

Last April, George and Martha, as nicknamed by the bridge workers, made national headlines when Martha was attacked by -- oh, let's just call her Angelina -- a rival for George's attentions.

Martha, who had lived with George on Rosalie Island on the Maryland side of the bridge since the 1990s, was seriously injured in Angelina's bloody midair attack and was taken to a bird rescue center in Delaware, where she recovered in a few weeks. Bridge workers cheered when she made her way back to her George soon after she was released into the wild in Delaware.

But tragedy struck again in September, when Martha flew into a tree or a power line and dislocated an elbow in her right wing. She was euthanized, and veterinarians said then she was at least 13 years old. A bald eagle's normal life span is about 20 years.

Throughout the ordeal, Angelina -- a far younger eagle than Martha who is described as "in her prime" (aren't they always?) -- never really went away. And now, she has just plain moved into Martha's old home.

"Since January, they've gotten closer and closer, first hanging out on the same branch, one in the nest, the other right beside it, then in the same nest," said Michael S. Baker, environmental manager for the bridge project.

The only thing the two new lovebirds don't seem to have done yet, Baker said, is produce some eaglets.

"They were spending so much time together that we were somewhat hopeful they would do their thing and lay some eggs," Baker said. "But they're just not there yet."

Baker said they're sure because if there were eggs, one of the eagles would always be protecting the nest.

Baker offered several possible reasons why the eagles are "still only courting."

"George lost his longtime mate, and the two of them have only been together a couple of months," he said. "It's only been a few months since all the craziness between the females. Even for a wild animal, that's a lot."

Baker also said that although George and Martha were acclimated to the heavily traveled bridge, which carries about 200,000 vehicles a day, Angelina might not be "comfortable with all that urban activity." He said workers have also seen the eagles on nearby farm property, one of them carrying a stick, prompting scientists to speculate they might be building another nest elsewhere. Namibia, perhaps?

George also might be getting a bit long in the tooth for eaglets, Baker said. "George and Martha were on the far edge of sexual viability as it was," he said. "George may have a few good years left in him, but he may not. Maybe we should get him Viagra."

Tugboat captain Paul Lingle, who works on the bridge project, said that when Angelina attacked Martha, "she wasn't in our good graces."

But, he said, the workers will probably, eventually, come around to the new gal in town.

"I guess she's good for George," he said. "So, yeah, I think we will warm up to her."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company