For over twenty years, Ozzie and Harriet lived in marital bliss.
It was clear from the start that they were made for each other. She, a striking creature with a large beak and black-speckled tail; he, smaller but no less distinguished, with sprinkles of white interspersed on his right shoulder.
After a residential stint elsewhere in North Fort Myers, Fla., the bald eagle pair made their nest on the sprawling property of Dick Pritchett Real Estate, where they flew freely among the pine trees. The year was 2006, and Ozzie and Harriet had yet to become national darlings.
Little is known about the couple’s life during this quiet period. Presumably, they engaged in conventional eagle activities: eating fish, tending to a nest, gliding majestically.
But as the world has learned in recent years, Ozzie and Harriet are no ordinary eagles. The Pritchetts, a family of avid eagle-watchers, wanted to share their feathered tenants with other amateur ornithologists. And so emerged the Southwest Florida Eagle Cam.
Since the camera was first installed in 2012, the 24-hour live stream of Ozzie and Harriet’s nest has attracted more than 40 million views from all over the world and 92,000 likes on their Facebook page. In an article this July, The News-Press of Fort Myers hailed them as the “region’s most celebrated couple.”
Today, that community is mourning.
Ozzie’s life came to an abrupt end Tuesday evening in a manner ripe for Shakespearean tragedy. The Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW), where the eagle was being treated this weekend, announced his passing on their Facebook page.
“Ozzie passed away last night at CROW due to complications from his recent injuries that included multiple severe lacerations and a broken toe in each foot,” the post reads. “It is highly likely these injuries were sustained from a fight with another bald eagle near the nest that was documented on the Southwest Florida Eagle Cam Facebook page. It was also reported that he had been entangled in barbwire.”
The news sent shock waves through Ozzie and Harriet’s loyal following, not only because of the eagles’ regal beauty as a couple, but also for what they represented: America, of course, and strong family values.
Ozzie’s death has complicated that ideal. The other bald eagle in question was a male rival for Harriet’s affections, The News-Press reports.
When Ozzie was discovered injured in a North Fort Myers backyard this Sunday, fighting a bacterial blood infection most likely resulting from this physical struggle, it had already been known for some time that his relationship with Harriet was on shaky ground.
While it is believed that bald eagles mate for life, a new partner can be chosen if one member of the pair dies or disappears. Ozzie and Harriet have raised dozens of eaglets and celebrated many other milestones together, but the events of this summer proved that even the greatest romances can err in the face of temptation.
After an accident involving a car in March, Ozzie was sent to CROW for three months of rehabilitation. During this time, Harriet was left alone in the nest to care for an eaglet then struggling to survive. She was approached by many eagle suitors — and some poachers looking to take their territory — but one in particular became a regular.
“The visitor took to following Harriet on her daily ventures and chased away other sub adult and adult Eagles from the nest territory,” recounts the Southwest Florida Eagle Cam blog.
The post notes that it was unlikely Harriet was looking for a new mate because nesting season had ended. Perhaps, she just felt that there was no use in fending off this male friend because she didn’t consider him a threat.
It was more than mere flirtation, though. Through the summer, “Frequent Visitor” continued to be a constant companion to Harriet, even after Ozzie’s release from the clinic.
Ozzie’s return to the nest was announced in a triumphant Facebook post on September 19. The following day, an alarming development: “Ground reports coming in that Ozzie & M15 [Frequent Visitor] have had various altercations. It has been reported that Ozzie lost a talon but is not seriously injured. All 3 eagles are in & out of the nest area and tension is high.”
Pictured above: Ozzie’s confrontation with the Frequent Visitor
Fans were divided in their allegiances. “Both eagles are fighting for what they believe is theirs,” commenter Deb Siraco Cryan wrote. “Hopefully neither will get seriously hurt.”
This prayer proved to be in vain this Sunday, when Ozzie was rushed to CROW in critical condition. The prognosis was good, as hospital director and veterinarian Heather Barron told The News-Press during surgery Monday morning that Ozzie would “probably be fine.”
But in the end, he lost his life — and love — to a younger eagle.
The death announcement came Wednesday morning, and with it, an outpouring of grief proportionate to the number of hearts Ozzie had captured.
Within an hour of the official announcement, The News-Press reports, over 600 people had posted comments to CROW’s Facebook and some 1,000 others had written on the eagle cam page. Ozzie and Harriet devotees minced no words in honoring their lost symbol of liberty, who is believed to have lived 25 years.
Commenters said they were grieving “from the depths of [their] souls”; some admitted to “crying [their] eyes out.” Yet the ultimate sentiment was an uplifting one:
“He is soaring even higher now!…Fly high baby, fly high.”