TORONTO – Millions of bird watchers riveted by a live Internet video feed of Canadian bald eagles roosting on their eggs were no doubt heartbroken Thursday when the majestic pair discovered their last surviving egg had cracked, their eaglet apparently dead.
The eagles screeched and looked confused, then resumed taking turns roosting on the remains — a despairing scene captured by a tiny video camera some 120 feet (36 meters) up a Douglas fir tree on a Web site visited by animal lovers, teachers and students around the world.
Retired accountant Doug Carrick, who put the hidden camera up in his backyard after monitoring the same birds of prey for those 17 years, said it was devastating to see their last egg gone. He noted the bald eagles — which mate for life — had already hatched 15 healthy fledglings that flew up north with them on their winter migrations, their parents returning like clockwork the first week of every October to retool their nest and lay new eggs.
"This has been a roller-coaster ride for me, along with everyone else," Carrick said by phone from his Hornby Island home off Vancouver, minutes after one of the birds pecked at the cracked egg, then squawked to its partner. "I think I'm a fairly realistic guy, but my emotions tell me I would have liked to have had a chick. So would the kids watching all over the world."
The Web cam has been a worldwide Internet smash. A Vancouver-based company, using servers in Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington for the Eagle Eye Live Cam, says the site was getting more than 10 million hits daily.
Carrick, with permission from local wildlife officials, put up the camera last year, mounting it in a plywood box with plexiglass to protect it from rain. He said volunteers would now move the Web cam to another nest in the hopes of catching other eaglets hatching.
"That will end my part in it — but I will keep doing this year after year. They're still my eagles and I'll be watching over them," said Carrick, 73.
Carrick said the pair went through the same ordeal last year and continued to nuzzle the eggs for a good day after they were dead. He said one chick lasted six days; the second died while pecking its way out of its shell.
Eagle eggs are expected to hatch about 35 days after they are laid.
The images broadcast on the Internet are so clear viewers can see the wind ruffle the feathers of the eagles and hear other wildlife chirping and crowing nearby.
The would-be parents, with their white heads, yellow hooked beaks and sharp eyes, have gone about their egg-sitting shifts with almost military-like precision. While one sat on the egg and tidied up the nest, the other was off hunting for salmon in the nearby river.
While the bald eagle population in the lower United States was nearly wiped out in the 1950s, primarily due to pesticides, their population is stable in British Columbia and Alaska.