PORTLAND, Maine – Blustery winds and frigid temperatures couldn't shake the maternal instincts of a bald eagle caught on a 24-hour camera while protecting her newly laid egg in a nest perched 70 feet above the Down East coast.
For the second year in a row, images from the camera mounted on another pine tree 45 feet away are allowing online viewers worldwide to peek in on the eagle's soon-to-be growing family by logging onto http://www.briloon.org.
As wind-chill readings hit 17-below-zero Tuesday and temperatures hovered in the mid-teens Wednesday, the female remained squatted over the egg to protect it from the cold.
"They have evolved to where they start laying eggs at this time of year here, and they can hang in there. They can survive in Alaska, and I'm sure they can handle this," said Wing Goodale, eagle cam project director for the BioDiversity Research Institute in Gorham.
Whether the mother will lay another egg, or in fact already has, was uncertain because the camera is not at an angle that allows a count.
The birds generally lay their eggs a couple of days apart; they can lay one to three eggs, with two eggs being the most common, Goodale said.
He said the number of offspring won't be known until April after the 35-day incubation period ends and viewers begin to see the chicks hatch. Last year, two of the three eaglets survived and flew away in August.
The BioDiversity Research Institute, a nonprofit ecological research group, was fascinated by the closeness in timing of last year's first egg to the one this year.
"Last year, it was around 4 in the afternoon on March 6; this year, it was around 4 o'clock on March 5 — just a 24-hour difference. That's quite remarkable," said Goodale.
He said the eagle cam project provides a way to document the timetable on when the first egg is laid.
Visits to the Web site doubled between Monday and Tuesday, he said, as viewers spread the word of the first egg and comments from well-wishers poured in from around the country and overseas.
After laying the egg, the female remained in the incubation position even as strong winds buffeted the nest and ruffled her feathers. At one point Tuesday, the father brought food to the nest.
Every few hours, the mother would rise from her squat in order to rotate the egg and prevent the embryo from sticking to one side.
Temperatures were expected to drop to the low single digits overnight, with the cold spell continuing Thursday. Forecasts called for the start of a warming trend that was expected to bring more seasonable temperatures over the weekend.
The nest is in an undisclosed location along the coast in Hancock County. The camera, controlled remotely from the institute's offices in Gorham, can move 360 degrees and zoom in its subject.
Researchers hope the project raises public awareness of a species that could be removed from the endangered list later this year. The eagle's recovery has been a success story in Maine, where the number of nesting pairs has increased more than tenfold from the 30 pairs documented in the early 1970s.
"Eagles face a significant threat from mercury and other contaminants," Chris DeSorbo, the institute's raptor program manager said in a statement. "By connecting people so personally with eagles, the camera increases people's awareness and concern about the numerous threats facing eagles, including mercury pollution."