By STEVEN NALLEY
The eaglets were living on borrowed time from the moment they were born.
David Richardson, wildlife biologist with the Noxubee Wildlife Refuge, said a pair of have nested on the refuge for almost a decade. Since 2008, he said, they have nested on one particular tree, and since 2006, that tree has been dead.
“Everyone expected the nest to be in jeopardy of falling and was surprised that the nest had made it through three previous nest seasons,” Richardson said. “We have been watching the nest tree every year and check it after big storms.”
Two of that nest’s three eaglets died on April 27, when the same powerful storms that wrecked businesses, destroyed homes and killed people on April 27 knocked the nesting tree over.
It was a strong wind, not a tornado, that felled the tree, Richardson said. Staff at NWR discovered the fallen tree and the eaglets’ fates at midday the day of the storm, he said.
“One eaglet died from the fall outright, and the second died later from exposure and broken wings,” Richardson said. “The third was roughed up from the fall but appeared to not have any broken bones.”
The parent eagles, Richardson said, both seem to be okay and have been seen at the nest area He said this pair has hatched triplets two of the last four nesting seasons, and a second nesting pair was discovered this year.
“Both parents actively feed and brood the young,” Richardson said. “Each winter the refuge has additional migrants arrive. This past winter, the refuge hosted at least 13 eagles.”
Winter also marks the start of nesting, with incubation taking more than 30 days, Richardson said. Once hatched, he said, eaglets stay in the nest 10-12 weeks before it can fly on its own.
“The eaglets were probably 7-9 weeks old when the storm hit the nest,” Richardson said. “The nest hatched in late January or February.”
There was little anyone could do to save the dead nesting tree, Richardson said, but that didn’t stop people from trying to save the eaglets.
“The Friends of Noxubee Refuge had fabricated an artificial nest in an adjacent tree in anticipation of the active nest tree falling,” Richardson said. “The pair actually had begun to build on the artificial nest but still nested in the old nest.”
The refuge’s other losses were minimal, Richardson said.
“Lots of scattered trees fell across the refuge, but thankfully, there was no major damage or extensive windthrow of trees,” Richardson said.
However, Richardson said, NWR has lost part of a popular attraction. He said one of the things tourists request most is the chance to see an eagle.
“They are even more delighted when they have the opportunity to see the nest with young and adults,” Richardson said. “It obviously is our national symbol and something that everyone can appreciate.”
Richardson said NWR staff are expecting the remaining eaglet to continue developing normally. In fact, he said, the eaglet may be likelier to thrive now.
“The absence of competition from the other siblings should allow the remaining bird a much better chance of surviving with all the food resources being allocated to it now,” Richardson said. “Periodically, the staff will check to ensure the eaglet is able to eventually fly.”