Baby eagles die. It's nature. But when it occurs on a webcam, it becomes personal. Over the weekend, a chick in a camera-monitored nest in Maine perished, and those watching knew that it was coming.
The parents seemed to have abandoned the nest, which held two eaglets. There were calls by the public for wildlife officials to step in and save the chick. But officials decided not to, and the baby died.
Those at the Biodiversity Research Institute, the organization behind Eaglecam1, have fielded "many inquiries, calls and concerns" about the eaglets -- including a push to have the still-living chick removed from the nest, according to its website.
They're not going to do it.
A few decades ago, the story likely would have been very different, Maine wildlife official Charlie Todd told the L.A. Times.
"Back in the '70s, each individual [eagle] mattered," said Todd, endangered species coordinator with the Inland Fisheries & Wildlife department. "On two hands, you could count how many baby eaglets were hatched in Maine in a given year."
So Todd said there probably would have been a rescue effort for one dying eaglet. In 1973, Maine had 31 nesting pairs of eagles. By 2013, there were 631. Eagles were taken off Maine's threatened species list in 2009.
That's the big-picture reason, he said, why a strategy that's "perhaps more in people's comfort zone" isn't necessary now -- or even feasible with so many nests. "We wouldn't get much else done."
Commenters at the institute's site on Thursday morning seemed resigned, calling the death of the smaller of the eaglets "so sad" but "nature's way."
"The remaining eaglet is being fed by adults, and it is always best for young eagles to develop bonds and learn life skills from parent eagles," a statement on the institute website reads. (Efforts to reach the institute were unsuccessful as of the publication of this post.)
Those commenters who were keeping an eye on the birds reported an adult feeding the surviving eaglet but also noted that the chick and the adult ate the remains of the eaglet that had died. Nature can be gritty.
Raptor specialist Erynn Call told the Associated Press the webcam was not "a baby monitor." And Todd agreed.
"It's hoped the webcam can bring information to people," he said, "as opposed to triggering action." The death of an eaglet "is just reality in more than a few nests in Maine and elsewhere."
The good news for concerned Eaglecam1 viewers: It looks like the remaining chick has a good shot at survival, according to the institute.
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This post has been updated with comments from Charlie Todd of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife.