Life doesn’t always have a happy ending.
Perhaps no one knows that better than folks who’ve been following a pair of American bald eagles, perennial favorites on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service National Conservation Training Center’s EagleCam in Sherpherdstown.
Thousands of fans from around the world watch the live video stream of Belle and Shep, as they are affectionately known, prepare their nest before sharing the responsibilities of incubating eggs and raising the young birds.
It’s kind of an eagle reality show, one that has made the adults and their babies into Internet darlings as they prepare to leave the nest in August.
But that’s not going to happen this spring. Although two eggs hatched, neither eaglet survived long and the second one died April 1 after appearing to be healthy.
True to form, the parents hunted and brought food to the nest. In the end, nothing was enough to save the eaglet or its slightly older sibling.
Their deaths prompted many to express their condolences online, including a Maryland woman who said she vividly remembers how bad the “empty nest syndrome” felt when her children left home. Many others wrote to say they were “heartbroken” since hearing the sad news.
No one can say exactly what went wrong, and there probably will never be an answer, said Steve Chase, division chief for the NCTC’s education and outreach programs.
It’s only the second or third time the entire clutch has been lost. It is more common to lose just one egg.
Environmental factors such as severe winter weather including frigid temperatures, snow and ice storms can be stressors, he said.
“But this time was really kind of surprising. I was watching right after the first egg hatched and while I could see some movement there was something wrong. It expired quickly. It was the second one that was a surprise because it was alert and eating so you never know,” he said.
On Thursday, the adults had brought two fish and a roadkill squirrel into the nest but no new food was present Saturday.
“So, by mid-morning, it was obvious that the poor thing had died, because they started digging up all the grass and started piling it up.”
It was the kind of bad news that spreads quickly, especially online.
“I’m not surprised that many took it hard, because the camera has been online for 10 years now and there is a big community of people who started on a regional level before eventually going global. There is also a core group of about 100 people who literally watch this camera all the time, when there are eagles and little eagles in the nest,” he said.
Many schools also use the resource in their classrooms.
The nest is located on the agency property near the Potomac River in Shepherdstown and has been active during nesting seasons since 2005. It provides great habitat which is not always available in the rapidly developing Eastern Panhandle, he said.
The Outdoor Channel and Friends of NCTC have joined with the Fish and Wildlife Service to make this nest video possible.
Although the eaglets are gone, the video will remain available until at least August for folks who want to watch the adult eagles.