Nature can be harsh and uncompromising, especially for newborn wildlife. Viewers of a popular Maine “eaglecam” were alarmed over the weekend when a bald eagle chick perished and was later cannibalized by its sibling and parents. It is a reminder that as likable and cute as these animals are, not all survive into adulthood. The Biodiversity Research Institute (BRI), which runs the webcam, defended their decision to not care for the two eagle chicks in the nest after their parents apparently abandoned them.
“While we understand the strong urge to intervene in circumstances that may be difficult to observe, there are many reasons—biological, ethical and legal—to allow nature to take its course,” The BRI stated on its website. “We understand that our decision not to intervene may be difficult for some viewers, but we continue to maintain that the Maine Eagle webcams are an opportunity for citizens and students to observe the natural world in it’s [sic] purest form and to understand the many pressures that wildlife face.”
The weaker of the two eagle chicks died before its parents could return to the nest several days later. The remaining chick seems to be doing well and is now being fed regularly by the adults. Wildlife experts said these kinds of cases are not uncommon among eagle nests, and the survival of even one eaglet can be viewed as a great success.
“The nest cam is more of a mirror to reflect what’s going on with all eagle nests. It’s not to be used as a baby monitor to intervene when we see something that makes us feel sad as humans,” raptor expert Erynn Call told the Associated Press.
The BRI reminded viewers that the webcam only shows one nest out of over 600 in the state. There was once a time where a single eagle chick would have prompted a rescue—when the species was on the verge of being extirpated from Maine. According to The Los Angeles Times, there were fewer than 31 nesting pairs of eagles in 1973.
“Back in the ’70s, each individual [eagle] mattered,” said Charlie Todd, an endangered species coordinator with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. “On two hands, you could count how many baby eaglets were hatched in Maine in a given year.”
Then in 2009 the species was taken off Maine’s threatened species list. Today there are an estimated 631 breeding pairs in the state, and the death of one chick is a harsh reality shared by many nests.
“From an evolutionary perspective, additional eggs or chicks in a nest offer an “insurance policy” of sorts in the event that an egg does not hatch or that a particular year may offer abundant food to support more than one, and up to three, chicks. By any measure, a single eagle surviving to the fledgling stage is a great success for eagles,” the BRI stated.
You can watch the current livestream of Eaglecam1 below: