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‘It’s a lot of drama at the nest this year’ for bald eagles in Washington

Liberty, a female bald eagle, incubates her two eggs in a nest that sits in a 100-foot-tall tree at the D.C. police academy property in Southwest Washington.
Liberty, a female bald eagle, incubates her two eggs in a nest that sits in a 100-foot-tall tree at the D.C. police academy property in Southwest Washington. (Earth Conservation Corp.)
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Drama is unfolding again in Washington, this time in an eagle’s nest.

First, the daddy bald eagle went missing. Then two other male suitors showed up at the nest, more than 110 feet up in an oak tree in Southwest Washington.

Earlier this week, the mother eagle began spending time away from the nest to hunt for food, leading wildlife experts to debate whether they should intervene and remove two eggs to incubate and hatch them in a human-controlled environment.

With the two males at the nest off and on and no one to help the female eagle incubate eggs expected to hatch in the middle of March, experts are worried. They said Thursday afternoon that Liberty — who was last spotted in the nest that morning — appeared to have abandoned the eggs.

The events unfolding at the nest are not uncommon in nature, but these bald eagles’ lives are tracked on social media and via a live video feed at that gives viewers a constant look into their nest.

“This stuff does happen all the time, but because we don’t have cameras in nests too often, we don’t see it,” said Dan Rauch, the District’s wildlife biologist. “You’re getting a view into the nest and can see who’s doing what and what’s happening. It’s a lot of drama at the nest this year.”

The nest at the D.C. police academy grounds near the Potomac and Anacostia rivers has been the home of Liberty, the female, and Justice, the male, for 14 years. The pair, who were named by a former D.C. police chief, have hatched about 22 eaglets.

But troubles arose for the presumably happy couple this month.

It started just after the two mated, experts said, and an egg was fertilized. Eagle watchers noticed Feb. 9 that Justice was missing.

Male bald eagle ‘Justice’ goes missing from D.C. nest. The younger ‘Aaron Burrd’ seems to be trying to take his place.

That same afternoon, a younger male showed up. Eagle watchers call him “M1” or “Aaron Burrd.”

From the eagle cam, birdwatchers could see that he had cuts on his talons, which experts said could be evidence that he had been in a fight, perhaps with Justice.

Experts thought Justice probably was nursing wounds and would return to deliver food to Liberty and help to incubate the eggs. But Justice has not been seen in about 12 days.

At the nest, M1 is trying to court Liberty, as is the new male, dubbed M2.

Experts said that at one point, M1 was seen delivering food to Liberty. But they warned that other male suitors typically destroy eggs that are not theirs. Liberty, at times, protected her eggs and chased Aaron Burrd away, according to eagle watchers.

M2 has behaved oddly, eagle watchers said, taking a turn at incubating the eggs and not appearing to try to destroy them. Liberty mated with M2 on Thursday morning, meaning new eggs are possible if she is still fertile.

“His fatherly instincts may be kicking in,” said Tommy Lawrence, managing director at the Earth Conservation Corps, which monitors the eagles. “He’s helping to protect the nest and taking a turn at incubating them while she’s off getting food.”

Hatch day! Baby eagle emerges in nest above D.C. police academy

Liberty left the nest recently for hours at a time, which caused eagle experts to worry that the eggs’ temperature had dropped too low and that they might not hatch.

“The fact that she’s been off of them quite a bit and no one’s taking over means they’re probably not viable,” Rauch said. “These eggs in this kind of weather shouldn’t be uncovered.”

People love watching nature on nest cams — until it gets grisly

Officials had been debating whether to intervene. They could get a utility company’s bucket truck and remove the eggs to incubate them, but that has downsides. It could upset Liberty and the two males.

Experts would also need permission from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

In 2017, a baby bald eagle got a leg stuck in a branch at a nest at the National Arboretum in Northeast Washington, prompting climbers to scale an 80-foot tree to help it.

A baby bald eagle hurt itself, so climbers scaled an 80-foot tree to help

Meanwhile, the search for Justice continues. The Earth Conservation Corps has received more than 100 emails and calls of possible sightings, but none has proved to be Justice.

People from as near as Silver Spring, Md., to as far away as North Carolina claimed to have seen Justice, but experts said that is unlikely, given that when he’s not at the nest, Justice likes to hang out at Oxon Cove Park in Maryland, at the campus of St. Elizabeths Hospital in Southeast Washington or at Hains Point on the Potomac River in Southwest Washington.

Experts said they were hopeful that M2 will start taking food to Liberty so that she can stay at the nest.

For now, Lawrence said, “We’re waiting to see what happens.”

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