‘Unexpected behavior’ from father leads to tragic death for just-hatched bald eagle

A month of faithful guarding by bald eagle parents led to the hatching of a chick with a “promising start” in West Virginia.

Then, the father showed “unexpected behavior.”

Fans of the bald eagle mating pair have been monitoring the nest on a live eagle cam streamed through the National Conservation Training Center. Viewers have come to know the pair as Bella and Scout.

Bella laid three eggs between Feb. 27 and March 4, and the eggs typically incubate for 35 to 38 days, according to the conservation center.

One egg broke and the other two were briefly left unincubated as the bald eagle parents had to chase away young eagles encroaching on the nest, officials said. Still, supporters were hoping the remaining eggs were viable and expected to see them hatch in early April.

Finally, the evening of April 7, a small hole appeared in the egg indicating the bird was trying to break free. By the morning of April 8, an eaglet emerged from its shell.

Bella fed her baby some fish for its first meal at around 5 p.m., then Scout came back to the nest a couple hours later, the conservation center said in an April 9 news release.

The evening of April 7, a small “pip” hole appeared in one of the eggs, indicating the hatching process had begun. Screengrab by Deb Stecyk/NCTC EagleCam/USFWS
The evening of April 7, a small “pip” hole appeared in one of the eggs, indicating the hatching process had begun. Screengrab by Deb Stecyk/NCTC EagleCam/USFWS

But Scout, who was likely experiencing his first mating season, did something startling.

“While rare at this nest, the young male (around 4.5 years old), seemed confused,” experts said. “He was rough with the eaglet and ultimately consumed the hatchling.”

Those following the pair’s journey were dismayed by the outcome.

“I haven’t been able to watch the eagles much this year, but I tuned in last night just in time to fall in love with the eaglet for a few minutes, then . . . shock and horror,” one Facebook user wrote. “Hugs to all the faithful NCTC eagle watchers. While we know it’s nature’s way, it’s still traumatic and we’re still heartbroken.”

An average bald eagle diet consists of fish and dead animals, but sometimes they are known to eat their own young, officials say.

“Bird behavior is complex and driven by hormones and instinct,” conservationists said in the release. “It is best not to think of birds of prey in human terms and having human emotions. Bald eagles are naturally predatory and aggressive; that’s the only way they can survive.”

The bald eagle parents, in particular the mom, had been diligently incubating the eggs even in rain and violent thunderstorms, video shows. Footage captured after the chick’s death shows both parents leaving their third and final egg in the nest without incubation.

Bald eagles can live up to 30 years in the wild, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but chicks can have high mortality rates due to issues with humans, food scarcity or disease.

“Nature can be wonderful and very harsh — at the same time,” conservationists said.

The nest is at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services’ National Conservation Training Center, about a 75-mile drive northwest of Washington, D.C.

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