Mother eagle died

UPDATE:  The moderators at EagleCam have decided to remove the eaglets to safer quarters:

DGIF biologists have decided that it is in the best interest of the eaglets to remove them from the nest and relocate them to the Wildlife Center of Virginia. The removal operation will take place at 10 a.m.  JAC: The removal appears to be taking place now according to one commenter: 9:15 EST. 

These biologists are the best judges of what to do, for they have experience about what happens to single-parented eagles.  In one hour you can see the removal live. It will be a sad occasion for us, and, perhaps, even sadder for the father, who will be returning to the nest with food, only to find that his offspring have disappeared.  If animals can feel sadness, this would be the time.
Thanks to all for watching EagleCam and checking in here.  I’ll try to find a replacement; one FalconCam looks propitious.

__________

A number of readers have posted comments about the death of the female eagle at EagleCam. She was hit by a plane landing at Norfolk International Airport early this morning, and was apparently carrying a fish back to the nest.

The father eagle is still feeding the young, but it’s not certain that a single parent can supply their needs. The Fish and Wildlife folks will decide tomorrow morning whether to remove the eaglets and raise them by hand, let the father continue to feed them, or perhaps farm the eaglets out to “foster nests” that already contain eagle chicks.

I’m deeply saddened by this, as I’m sure most of us are who have spent so much time watching this pair produce eggs and chicks.  It’s hard, too, not to anthropomorphize the situation and wonder if the male misses his mate (they’d been together for several years).  As for me, I can’t yet bear to look at the site, so what I’m reporting is what readers have told me.

Nature is red in tooth and claw, and at least the mother was spared the slow and painful death that befalls most animals in the wild.  But somehow an airplane doesn’t seem fair.

153 Comments

  1. mordacious1
    Posted April 26, 2011 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

    Way too sad! Watching them on the camera, you get attached…

    I don’t know if the dad can handle this on his own, it is probably best to remove them.

    • Posted April 26, 2011 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

      He’s tryin’, and I hope they’ll let him continue unless the chicks get in serious danger. He at least deserves the chance.

      b&

    • Posted April 26, 2011 at 11:36 pm | Permalink

      If I lived nearby, I’d be tempted to leave fish where the parent could collect them easily, to make feeding easier.

      Of course these interventions are “unnatural”, but so are airplanes.

  2. Posted April 26, 2011 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

    Dad was feeding the trio earlier this afternoon. And one of the moderator comments suggested that it’s not unheard of for single parents to raise chicks this age.

    Poor guy…he loses his wife, and how he’s got three hungry chicks to feed. If he can shoulder the burden for just a little while, they’ll fledge and he’ll have the most fitting memorial he could give to his wife.

    Anthropomorphization, hell. Eagles wouldn’t form long-term bonds and carry on like this without the exact same sorts of emotions that drive us to do that sort of thing. What he’s going through right now might not have as many shades of subtlety that a man who just lost his wife would be going through, but you can be damned sure it hurts just as much.

    What makes us think we’re so damned special that we’re the only animals with emotions? I mean, really. Can anybody seriously make the case that there was a spontaneous mutation that occurred after our last common ancestor with chimps that created all our most primitive mental faculties? Give me a break.

    Unless you want to propose the “soul” as the source of our emotions and divine ensoulment as the method by which we obtain them, it’s bleedin’ obvious that love, hate, loss, happiness, and all the rest are universal experiences amongst all those with enough neurons to rub together.

    b&

    • Sven DiMilo
      Posted April 26, 2011 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

      You’re a nut. Anthropomorphism is exactly what it is. Chimpanzees are one thing, but no: whatever an eagle might “feel” (they’re not particularly smart birds, you know, nothing like a crow or a parrot), grief, love, and happiness are most assuredly not homologous in eagles and people.

      • Kudu
        Posted April 26, 2011 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

        And you know this how?

      • whyevolutionistrue
        Posted April 26, 2011 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

        Look, please don’t call someone a “nut” about this. None of us know the emotions experienced by an animal. Perhaps they do feel something akin to grief. And it’s sort of callous at this time to call someone names who’s speculating about this.

      • Posted April 26, 2011 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

        Okay, then.

        Propose a mechanism other than emotion capable of explaining their behavior.

        Good luck.

        b&

        • Greg Esres
          Posted April 26, 2011 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

          “Propose a mechanism other than emotion capable of explaining their behavior.”

          Trivially easy. Pain, for one, if the eagle did not behave this way.

          Or just an algorithm running in the brain, like what’s happening in the computer you’re using.

          • Kudu
            Posted April 26, 2011 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

            It would cause pain for the eagle if it did not act sad? What??

            • Greg Esres
              Posted April 27, 2011 at 6:29 am | Permalink

              “It would cause pain for the eagle if it did not act sad?”

              Ah, the “sad” is your interpretation.

              Ben G made an “argument from ignorance” that we deplore in creationists. He could not imagine anything other than emotion causing this behavior that we interpret as sadness. I offered two.

          • Posted April 26, 2011 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

            And this algorithm of yours causing pain is different from the emotion of grief that also causes pain…how, exactly?

            b&

            • Greg Esres
              Posted April 27, 2011 at 6:33 am | Permalink

              “And this algorithm of yours causing pain is different from the emotion of grief that also causes pain…how, exactly?”

              You misread. I offered TWO explanations. Pain can control the behavior of organisms, but it’s not an emotion.

              The second explanation is just automatic behavior without any subjective experience, just like your computer behaves (or so we suppose.)

              The fact that you personally can’t think of other explanations for an observation isn’t evidence in favor of your explanation.

              • Posted April 27, 2011 at 9:10 am | Permalink

                And it seems you misunderstand me in turn.

                We have evolutionarily-imparted algorithms that we call “emotions” running on biochemical computational devices that we call “brains.”

                If I understand you correctly, you are proposing that one possible explanation for the eagles’s behavior would be an algorithm running in their brains.

                My challenge to you: how are the algorithms running in their brains so substantively different from the ones running in ours that we should use different labels for the two?

                Would you agree that the physiological mechanisms at work in the hunt for eagles — adrenaline-powered elevated blood pressure, for example, that we describe as the thrill of the chase — are substantially the same as in humans? What about orgasm? Response to physical injury? Response to threat of predation? Challenge from sexual rivals?

                You are claiming that there is some sort of mechanism creating a clear dividing line that separates those emotions the two species share with other very closely-related emotions. Short of a religiously-inspired soul-style dualism, I can’t imagine what could possibly cause such a dramatic discontinuity — and you’ve yet to offer up a meaningful example of such a mechanism, evidence that it exists, or even a logical reason why we should be looking for one.

                This isn’t an argument from ignorance on my part any more than Russel’s Teapot is an argument from ignorance. I’m merely observing that there’s no reason whatsoever to pick out emotions from all the rest of our shared biology and ancestry as being radically different. Unless, of course, you’re aware of objective evidence to the contrary….

                Cheers,

                b&

          • Posted April 26, 2011 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

            Do you mean like the algorithms that run in your brain that lead to your emotional states?

            Though I tend to agree that birds are less likely to share the same complexity of emotions that humans and other primates (and other animals with larger, more complex brains), I think it’s also fair to speculate that they probably share some similar emotions at a lesser degree of complexity.

            I tend to see consciousness among species as more of a continuous function than a binary one.

        • Posted April 26, 2011 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

          Thanks, Ben. You said exactly what I was going to say, only much better, of course. Human emotions didn’t spring forth ex nihilo. Papa Eagle’s grief may not be the Doomsday Machine that human grief is, but who are we to presume that he feels nothing at all? At the very least, confusion and stress.

          Proof? How about measuring hormone levels in animals before and after such an event? (Waving aside, for the moment, the difficulty of taking the measurement).

          Besides, surely everybody knows about the Tsunami Dog in Sendai–right?

          • Notagod
            Posted April 26, 2011 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

            Kitty learnings:

        • Marella
          Posted April 26, 2011 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

          Of course animals feel emotion, and this male eagle will be feeling just as bad in an eagly kind of way as a person would. He just doesn’t have the intellect to add all the extra layers of cogitation that a person does.

      • H.H.
        Posted April 26, 2011 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

        they’re not particularly smart birds, you know, nothing like a crow or a parrot

        What makes you think intelligence has anything to do with emotions?

        • Posted April 26, 2011 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

          Alot, actually. I think it’s social or emotional intelligence that we recognize in other species that prompts us to think of them as “intelligent”. Because they remind us of us.

    • Kudu
      Posted April 26, 2011 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

      Great post. I posted #8 before reading yours. Given that eagles are probably more naturally monogamous than humans, maybe his pain is greater than that of a human who lost their mate.

      I once saw a goose get hit and killed by a car. I stopped and tried to flush its mate off the busy highway. But the mate would run around me, and back to the dead goose. Even when I finally flushed the mate off the highway, it immediately ran back onto the highway to the dead goose. Finally someone else stopped to help me and fetched the dead goose. The mate started squawking and honking as its dead mate was brought close. It was obvious to me there was emotional pain in those squawks.

      • Posted April 26, 2011 at 11:40 pm | Permalink

        Of course we don’t know an animal’s emotional state (if any), but it’s always seemed reasonable to me that their emotions are probably similar to ours. Their neurochemistry is basically the same.

        Of course, we’re also prone to projecting human attributes on to just about everything.

    • Phil65
      Posted April 26, 2011 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

      Who’s to say what emotion even is? It’s difficult to define it, let alone speculate how “real” it is–and that’s in humans, let alone animals.

      Anthropomorphizing has always raised my skeptic’s hackles, but at the same time, I’m not immune to it myself. It’s interesting how even people who consider themselves highly rational are prone to it. Every skeptical bone in my body is saying, “Come now, this is not a Disney film, this is nature. You should know better”. But my emotional is naturally relating to what appears to be emotion in other creatures.

      This is all a long-winded way of saying that I’m not sure if you’re right or not.

    • Posted April 26, 2011 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

      You know, it seems to me it really should be obvious.

      We know that emotions are the proximate driver of certain behaviors in humans.

      We observe the same behaviors in other animals — nearly universally, in fact.

      We know these animals share a common ancestry.

      We know these animals have similar physiologies.

      Lacking evidence to the contrary, assuming that the proximate cause of these behaviors in non-human animals is anything other than the same emotions is a gross violation of Occam’s Razor.

      I mean, seriously? Would anybody here suggest that the bird’s oxygen transport system isn’t hemoglobin-based or that their inheritance mechanism isn’t DNA-based?

      Behavior — especially reproductive behavior that causes pairs to bond and care for offspring — is so vital, so important, so fundamental. It makes as much sense to suggest that it was something other than love that kept the pair together as it does to suggest that it’s something other than dopamine that transmits their nerve signals.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Posted April 26, 2011 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

        Right. And Oxytocin has Nothing. At. All. to do with your orgasm… ;-)

      • Diane G.
        Posted April 27, 2011 at 12:51 am | Permalink

        I’ve always thought the same way, Ben, about what should be our baseline assumptions when it comes to behavioral observations such as these. Thank you for stating the case so intelligently and elegantly.

      • Jeanine
        Posted April 27, 2011 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

        I do think it is easy to fall into anthropomorphism in a situation like this. However, I think that going too far the other way – e.g. “There’s no way animals can experience emotions like us humans” is perhaps an attempt to shield oneself from the sheer brutality of “nature red in tooth and claw”. I do not believe that by declaring “I can’t imagine that complex, intelligent animals would have emotions vastly different than us – another complex, intelligent animal” is the same as saying “I can’t imagine how the universe came into being so obviously gawd did it.” That is an unfair accusation. Why should we suppose that various forms of animals should experience such limited ranges of emotion and expression, just because we can’t understand them? As others pointed out, are they not made of the same stuff as us? I had more to say but have a 1 year old human crawling on me.

    • Ichthyic
      Posted April 26, 2011 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

      Eagles wouldn’t form long-term bonds and carry on like this without the exact same sorts of emotions that drive us to do that sort of thing.

      Uh, were you actually trying for a specific example that well-defines what anthropomorphism is?

    • AR
      Posted April 27, 2011 at 5:51 am | Permalink

      I’ll swim against the tide… I don’t think it’s too far-fetched to think that the male eagle will be saddened by the loss of his mate. His emotions may not look like human emotion, or be experienced like humans experience theirs, but that’s not a reason to discount even the possibility that he’d feel this loss.

      I raise rabbits. (This is related — bear with me!) Rabbits are pretty darn simple, cognitively, etc. One must be extremely vigilant with the survivor in the event of the death of his partner. They stop eating, stop drinking, fail to puruse any of the activities they normally pursue in a day. Why? Because they grieve.

      I don’t much care how “simple” an eagle is or about anyone’s uninformed, half-baked cog sci. It is at least possible that they experience something very like sadness and grief, if not sadness and grief as we experience it.

      • ethan
        Posted April 27, 2011 at 8:47 am | Permalink

        I agree with many of you who say that Eagle’s (and “lesser” animals) feel emotions. From what I know about how cognition works in humans (I’m a 3rd year psychology student), emotions are felt due to the activity in certain regions of the amygdala and some other regions of the mid brain and frontal cortex. I’m not too familiar with the literature on emotion, since it isn’t a particular area of interest, but if human psychologists and neuroscientists could pin down the locations of emotion more accurately, we could make the logical jump that birds and other animals share similar emotional experience if they have a) the same structures & b) those structures function in much the same way and connect up with other regions in the same way.

        I think consciousness is more of a continuum than a binary experience and I also feel that in order to “feel” emotions, one must have consciousness (to what extent, I do not know). Even if the male eagle doesn’t humanly feel sad or grief, that isn’t to say that he doesn’t feel any sadness or grief; it could be a different species of sadness or grief.

        • Diane G.
          Posted April 27, 2011 at 11:59 pm | Permalink

          That makes sense. It’s also the case that we sometimes operate under false assumptions, as witness the recent relabeling of bird brain components:

          http://howbirdsthink.blogspot.com/

          Our tools keep getting better and better!

      • Diane G.
        Posted April 28, 2011 at 12:00 am | Permalink

        A nice contribution, AR.

  3. Dee
    Posted April 26, 2011 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

    I was making my daily check (ok, one of several daily checks) on the cam and saw the news. I sure wish there was something they could do to help support the male for hunting, so they could leave the chicks in place, but that seems unlikely. If they do move the chicks, I’m sure going to miss watching them finish growing up.

    And I liked the female. She had an attitude – fun to watch.

  4. mordacious1
    Posted April 26, 2011 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

    Ben
    I had a parakeet who bonded with my daughter’s Guinea Pig. When the GP died, the parakeet was depressed and mourned for weeks (longer than some humans). It was horrible to watch and I thought the keet was going to die too.

    • Posted April 26, 2011 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

      If it weren’t for the fact that birds seem to be such emotional critters, I’d not believe you.

      The closest I’ve come to experiencing that, myself, was a morning I spent in a bird store (killing time between services at a church gig) cuddling a cockatiel. The guy was a real sweetheart and in need of a forever home. I had neither the money nor the personal circumstances at the time to give it to him, but I sure gave it some especially serious thought.

      b&

      • Diane G.
        Posted April 27, 2011 at 12:53 am | Permalink

        One of our ‘tiels lived to be 19. It was devastating to lose him.

        • Jeanine
          Posted April 27, 2011 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

          I’m sorry, Diane. I too had a well-loved cockatiel. She was a total, loving sweetheart and wanted nothing more than to cuddle next to my cheek. Also, anyone who has had birds can probably testify to another emotion: jealousy.

          • Diane G.
            Posted April 28, 2011 at 12:12 am | Permalink

            Oh, yes! :) Both intra- and interspecific! Broadly interspecific.

  5. Jim Thomerson
    Posted April 26, 2011 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

    Because our activities were involved in taking out the mother, it seems only fair to help the father finish raising the chicks.

    • saintstephen
      Posted April 26, 2011 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

      Very sad. I wonder if the mother’s instincts (her single-mindedness in providing food for her offspring?) played any role in her not avoiding the plane.

  6. Brian
    Posted April 26, 2011 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

    Sad. I hope the male can raise them with out interference. I worry that humans get in the way and stop birds learning natural behaviours. But that’s probably irrational.

    Reading the conjecture about whether the male would be able to raise the chicks reminded me of this somewhat similar happening with a male black swan in Melbourne. Seems the swan has abandoned the egg to hook up with a new swanette.

    http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/swan-grieves-after-teens-callous-brutality-20110407-1d4sf.html

    http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/swan-grieves-after-teens-callous-brutality-20110407-1d4sf.html

    http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/swan-finds-new-bird-after-mates-stoning-death-20110427-1dvml.html

  7. Posted April 26, 2011 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

    This is so sad. An airplane does seem so cruel.
    I hope the male can do it on his own.

  8. Kudu
    Posted April 26, 2011 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

    I sometimes think we need a word that means the opposite of anthropomorphize. For surely there are cases when animals feel the same things we do. They are, after all, a product of the same evolutionary processes which “decided” that those feelings would increase our survival. Perhaps humans are too quick to dismiss the possibility of similar emotional responses in animals, and claim a human monopoly where none actually exists.

    • Sven DiMilo
      Posted April 26, 2011 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

      or perhaps not

      • Kudu
        Posted April 26, 2011 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

        Oh I get it, humans are unique and separate from the rest of nature. Where have I encountered that attitude before?

        Oh yeah, religion.

        • Posted April 26, 2011 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

          Exactly:-)

          I find it interesting that we readily believe that animals experience emotions like fear and rage. Why not grief or lonliness or attatchment or love?

    • saintstephen
      Posted April 26, 2011 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

      I think it is a continuum, from simple to complex. I personally believe other species of animals experience emotions in a very similar fashion to us primates.

      The same applies to their “levels” of consciousness, although I’m certainly no authority.

      I think we need a good ethologist to assist us here. Anybody know one?
      ;)

      • Ichthyic
        Posted April 26, 2011 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

        Yes. I do. Several in fact.

        and if you want to hear what an ethologist would tell you, it’s this:

        The default assumption is that behavior is NOT motivated by conscious thought or emotional response.

        this is the null hypothesis that must first be rejected.

        I’d say more, but the emotional response here to an obviously tragic event people have invested a lot of time in isn’t really conducive to teaching anything about the evolution and study of behavior.

        • saintstephen
          Posted April 26, 2011 at 11:34 pm | Permalink

          Well, since we don’t really know scientifically what either “emotions” or “consciousness” are, I think this debate will remain unsettled for now.

          Thanks for your opinion, though.

        • Diane G.
          Posted April 27, 2011 at 12:58 am | Permalink

          The default assumption is that behavior is NOT motivated by conscious thought or emotional response.

          this is the null hypothesis that must first be rejected.

          Which is, in fact, dogma and tradition, not science.

          Wasn’t that long ago that doctors believed human infants didn’t feel pain, thus circumcisions (& other surgeries) were performed without anesthetics.

          • Posted April 27, 2011 at 3:30 am | Permalink

            I suppose the assumption is a check against our impulse to project human attributes on to other species. Heck, we even do it to inanimate objects.

            • Diane G.
              Posted April 27, 2011 at 11:36 pm | Permalink

              Yes, and there is value in being aware of our biases and assumptions and trying our best to be objective. But I’ve always felt that the traditional behaviorists as described by Ichthyic have gone way too far the other way. Esp., as Ben’s pointed out so well, in light of our growing knowledge of our common evolutionary heritage, of our similar biochemical responses to stress, of the adaptability of certain strategies–pair bonds, parental investment in offspring, etc., not to mention that of certain emotions.

        • whyevolutionistrue
          Posted April 27, 2011 at 3:48 am | Permalink

          That “default assumption” is not what Frans de Waal holds for studies of primate behavior; in fact, his default assumption is that similar behaviors in primates are motivated by similar emotions.

          • Diane G.
            Posted April 27, 2011 at 11:44 pm | Permalink

            Having just read a few of Robert Sapolsky’s essays, he sounds as if his assumptions are similar; and he supports his hypotheses by measuring blood levels of cortisol and lymphocytes, which correlate as expected with baboon stress.

        • AR
          Posted April 27, 2011 at 6:11 am | Permalink

          I understood this to be a point of methodology, though, not a substantive position on the possibility of things like non-human animal emotion. (And not one shared by all. See WEIT comment below.)

          Even taking your considerations at face value, until the evidence is in, the competing hypothesis can still reasonably be in play — at the very least, can’t be dismissed out of hand as it has been here. If not, then, yes, it seems a mere prejudice and rather unscientific.

          • AR
            Posted April 27, 2011 at 8:36 am | Permalink

            Or above, as it were.

      • Posted April 26, 2011 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

        A continuum is a good way of putting it I think. Jane Goodall would agree with you, I’m sure.

        Do animals have emotions?

        • Dominic
          Posted April 27, 2011 at 1:27 am | Permalink

          Jane Goodall is ‘spiritual’ – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Reason-Hope-Spiritual-Jane-Goodall/dp/0446676136
          She said last year, “I don’t have any idea of who or what God is. But I do believe in some great spiritual power. I don’t know what to call it. I feel it particularly when I’m out in nature. It’s just something that’s bigger and stronger than what I am or what anybody is. I feel it. And it’s enough for me.”

          • Posted April 27, 2011 at 4:58 am | Permalink

            Interesting–didn’t know anything about her beliefs (such as they are)…

        • Dominic
          Posted April 27, 2011 at 2:38 am | Permalink

          Hey – Satish Kumar, quoted in that article, knew my parents! He waled to England from India…

          • Dominic
            Posted April 27, 2011 at 2:50 am | Permalink

            Walked…

          • Posted April 27, 2011 at 5:01 am | Permalink

            Wow– really? Small world…

    • AR
      Posted April 27, 2011 at 6:05 am | Permalink

      Peter Singer might help you here: speciesism. Or anthropocentrism, maybe.

      Some of the comments here seem a bit close to Descartes’ view of aminals’ inability to feel (physical) pain: an animal’s cry (of what we now know is pain) is nothing more or less than the squeek of a wagon wheel.

      • Posted April 27, 2011 at 7:35 am | Permalink

        That’s who I was trying to think of–thanks.

  9. Sven DiMilo
    Posted April 26, 2011 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

    The best thing would be to provide the male with supplemental food easily available near the nest. He could feed them fine; its the hunting and fishing that take time and take two.

    • Dee
      Posted April 26, 2011 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

      I really hope they figure out something along these lines. It seems like this would be the least intrusive thing to do, at least as far as the chicks are concerned. Any idea of the male would take advantage of fish that just happened to land on the grass near the tree?

      • Jeanine
        Posted April 27, 2011 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

        For some reason I’m picturing an inflatable kid’s pool with a few trout swimming in it. But yeah, I do hope they can figure out how to keep the family together and healthy. This is a real bummer. Poor mommy, just trying to feed her babies. It’s just too much sometimes :(

    • Posted April 26, 2011 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

      I’ve had similar thoughts…but I’m sure they don’t want to habituate him to expect handouts from people.

      I’d be inclined to trust their judgement on the matter. It’s what they’ve devoted their lives to doing, after all, and with some pretty good success.

      b&

      • Dee
        Posted April 26, 2011 at 8:08 pm | Permalink

        Oh, I’ll be trusting their judgment on this, particularly since there isn’t any other choice. I still hope they come up with something less intrusive than removing the chicks from the nest and the reason is selfish enough – I have really enjoyed the eagle cam and watching the family grow. I’ve caught a couple of the chicks letting off those butt blasts, and I want to see how they manage as they grow bigger.

        Not to mention watching them fledge.

  10. Posted April 26, 2011 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

    What incredibly sad news. I shed a tear or two. I was hoping too that perhaps they could help him feed the eaglets rather than foster them out or take them away from him. Seems like it would be a rather large loss and I do think he’d be at a loss. Birds do get rather attached to people and clearly he was attached to his mate!

  11. gayle
    Posted April 26, 2011 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

    I feel really gutted about this. Nothing else to say.

    • Posted April 26, 2011 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

      It’s a bit much all at once, isn’t it. *hugs*

  12. Posted April 26, 2011 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

    Is it true that a “slow and painful death” befalls most wild animals? I was under the impression that they tend to either be eaten or (toward the top of the food chain) be killed by rivals.

    • Posted April 27, 2011 at 8:24 am | Permalink

      Both of those can be pretty slow and painful themselves!

      • Jeanine
        Posted April 27, 2011 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

        Yikes, indeed. Many animals are “not quite dead” when the actual eating part starts. No thank you to that. If I can go through life without getting eaten alive, I win. *shuddering as I recall some komodo dragon footage that I can’t now unsee*

        • Diane G.
          Posted April 27, 2011 at 11:48 pm | Permalink

          The komodo dragons and the cow? Shuddering here, too!

      • Diane G.
        Posted April 27, 2011 at 11:47 pm | Permalink

        My thoughts exactly. Plus there’s death by parasitism, starvation, disease…Tasmanian devils are now dying of a hideous cancer…

  13. Neil
    Posted April 26, 2011 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

    I feel terrible, yet I must admit it is strange, from an evolutionary perspective, that I feel terrible. One of the mysteries of an evolved capacity for empathy even across species, I guess.

    • Posted April 26, 2011 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

      When you realize that we share the overwhelming majority of our genome with them, it’s not all that surprising after all.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Ichthyic
        Posted April 26, 2011 at 9:12 pm | Permalink

        When you realize that we share the overwhelming majority of our genome with them, it’s not all that surprising after all.

        you share even more of your genome with chimps.

        do you also share all of the same behaviors?

        no?

        why not?

        • Posted April 26, 2011 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

          My son shares an even larger percentage of his genome with his autistic friend, and *danged* if his friend doesn’t seem to exhibit quite the range of behaviors that my non-autistic son does.

          Similar adaptive pressures have a funny way of converging on similar solutions in the design space, don’t they?

        • Posted April 26, 2011 at 9:32 pm | Permalink

          I am sure that Ben (along with the rest of us) shares most of the traits of a chimp, but maybe not all. Ben hasn’t flung any poop at me yet, but it is only a matter of time, I guess ;)

          • Dominic
            Posted April 27, 2011 at 1:29 am | Permalink

            Ben gives the impression of a tough person but he is a big softie! :)

        • whyevolutionistrue
          Posted April 27, 2011 at 4:57 am | Permalink

          Ichthyic, please don’t be so aggressive on this thread. It’s really about mourning the loss of an eagle friend, not about going after people for their statements. This is an eagle, not Roger Stanyard.

          • saintstephen
            Posted April 27, 2011 at 8:10 am | Permalink

            Sorry Professor Coyne, but that was hilariously funny to me.

      • Neil
        Posted April 27, 2011 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

        I doubt that. I share a comparable number of genes with the chicken I had for dinner last night, and the rat in my basement I was forced to dispatch last week(I could have humanely trapped it, but then what would I do with it?).

        I think it just reflects our heightened concern with the well-being of “charismatic macro-fauna”, especially where there are babies involved.

        • Diane G.
          Posted April 28, 2011 at 12:16 am | Permalink

          Having had both pet chickens and pet rats, I beg to differ. (Nonetheless, I do eat chicken…)

    • Posted April 26, 2011 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

      We humans feel sad for the widower of another species, and it is not that mysterious. The ability to feel empathy across species is not special to humans either. For example, who has not experienced feeling sad, and having the family dog come over and lay their head in your lap and sigh? The circuitry for feeling such emotions like empathy are built into all of us (us including non-human animals) and have been evolved into conscious creatures for a long time, although how far back I don’t know. It may be an interesting question for how closely we share these emotions with animals that branched from us in the distant past.

      • Posted April 27, 2011 at 12:36 am | Permalink

        Except when the species in question happens to be delicious.

        • Diane G.
          Posted April 27, 2011 at 11:21 pm | Permalink

          Even then, unfortunately…

  14. phalacrocorax
    Posted April 26, 2011 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

    This problem of anthropomorphism has interested me a bit, but neither side could really convince me. All I could do is to think of a little imaginary situation:

    I think my neighbor is an android. He is mute and won’t communicate verbally with me, but if I look deep into his eyes, I think I can recognize human emotions. But hey, this just tells me about my feelings, not his. Perhaps he was just programmed to act in a way humans would empathize with him. How do I find out if he really has emotions?

    I think an experiment that could be used to determine whether my neighbor has emotions (regardless of being human or not) could be used to determine objectively whether anything (including an animal) has emotions. But then, I admit I’m not a particularly smart bird.

    • Marta
      Posted April 27, 2011 at 5:47 am | Permalink

      “This problem of anthropomorphism has interested me a bit”

      It interests me, too. Seems patently obvious that higher order animals have emotional live. We deny this for reasons that suit us economically.

      How do we call ourselves civilized if we can’t bring the quality of empathy to the lives of the animals we use?

  15. Nancy
    Posted April 26, 2011 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

    I have been watching this nest since the eggs hatched. Yes, I’m sad about the loss of the female but let’s all keep in mind that these eaglets are pretty damn lucky. This nest is monitored daily and I have no doubt that should the male be unable to care for the eaglets, the people at NGB will step in and ensure that the eaglets reach maturity. Have no doubt, they WILL be taken care of.

    If only the same could be said for all the single parents in my neighborhood.

  16. articulett
    Posted April 26, 2011 at 10:27 pm | Permalink

    No!

    So sad.

  17. articulett
    Posted April 26, 2011 at 10:29 pm | Permalink

    I wonder if the father knows.

    What do they do after a mate dies?

    • Posted April 27, 2011 at 12:34 am | Permalink

      Find a new mate, apparently.

      When he’s ready, he can take those eaglets with him on some walks through the park, and I’m sure he’ll do just fine.

    • Diane G.
      Posted April 27, 2011 at 1:03 am | Permalink

      The moderators stayed on the comment thread till midnight tonight. They believe the male “knows.” The male & female were hunting together when the plane landed; he escaped, she didn’t.

      One of the consultants believes the male will seek a new mate in the fall. Ironically, this male was the female’s second mate. Her first was struck & killed by a plane in December of 2002.

      • Marta
        Posted April 27, 2011 at 5:52 am | Permalink

        Wow, I was thinking that the odds against a single eagle being killed by an airplane were millions to one. From what you’ve said here, it appears that this is not uncommon.

        • Diane G.
          Posted April 28, 2011 at 12:05 am | Permalink

          I think birds & airports are frequently a bad combination. As one Eagle Cam mod noted, we can at least be glad that the plane and all its passengers landed safely…

          There was mention of putting greater effort toward addressing this problem now at the airport near NBG.

  18. Anonymous
    Posted April 27, 2011 at 12:36 am | Permalink

    The loss of Mama Eagle and Poly Styrene in one day is a bit much to bear.

  19. Diane G.
    Posted April 27, 2011 at 1:04 am | Permalink

    From the site, a link to a WVEC story with some details:

    http://www.wvec.com/my-city/norfolk/US-120702329.html

  20. Diane G.
    Posted April 27, 2011 at 1:12 am | Permalink

    The female was struck & killed around 8:30-8:50am. She had fed the chicks once earlier in the day. The male returned to the nest with a fish, to the great relief of all, at ~6:45 pm. A vid was posted of this feeding:

    http://www.youtube.com/user/annsva#p/a/u/0/_CJuk_rZIiY

    At around the 12:40 mark of that vid, the male hops onto a nearly limb. In light of what happens, it’s hard not to want to see his “look” then, before he takes off, as one of at least perplexity or worry, if not “sadness.” The eaglets, too, line up at the edge of the nest, upright, and watch him leave. That’s a little worried-seeming as well; usually they’re sated and lethargic after a good feed…

    Such a sad day.

  21. Dominic
    Posted April 27, 2011 at 1:48 am | Permalink

    It is very sad, & humans having caused the death of the female have some responsibility to help the offspring. It would make more sense to me to just remove one eaglet & then the male might cope with feeding the two left. If the female had died naturally I would have said do not interfere. I am not convinced though that most animals have a slow painful death in the wild. Perhaps that is more likely with an apex predator?

    I suppose I should take a position on Ben v. Sven. Ben is a cat lover – therefore he is predisposed to putting an emotional slant on the situation. Is Sven a pet-owner? Do more emotional people have pets because they are empathic, or are they empathic because they have pets? I am a mechanistic reductionist, but I still ‘have’ emotions. I think I have to say that all emotion is, is a way to describe natural behaviour that occurs as SaintStephen says above, in a continuum. If Darwin could think that animals have emotions – “The expression of the Emotions in Man & Animals” – then I have to!

    • Dominic
      Posted April 27, 2011 at 2:25 am | Permalink

      On the other hand, “extreme behaviourists would say that human “feeling” is also merely a hard-wired response to external stimuli” –

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emotion_in_animals

      This probably represents my position better, which is not to say that I do not ‘experience’ emotions, just that I can stand back from them & I hope understand them in a biological context. I should probably read Peter Singer!

      • Dominic
        Posted April 27, 2011 at 2:43 am | Permalink

        walked!

        • Dominic
          Posted April 27, 2011 at 2:49 am | Permalink

          Sorry – too much holiday making me sloppy – I meant to correct what I said about Satish Kumar way up on the page – he walked to England from India. In the article Yokohamamamma points to from the Times in 2008 there is an interesting discussion of what everyone has been saying. I am still not sure – I think we can interpret behaviour as emotions or feelings in humans & animals, but that is no different from calling things evil or good. These are useful ways of us describing our world. Probably!

      • Posted April 27, 2011 at 6:01 am | Permalink

        Nicely said:-)) I’ve been meaning to read Peter Singer, too, now that you mention it.

  22. Carl
    Posted April 27, 2011 at 6:46 am | Permalink

    Apparently the VDGIF is planning to remove the eaglets at 10:00 AM today. They will go to the Wildlife Center of Virginia. I guess they’d rather not risk the survival of these eaglets on the foraging/hunting skills of the male eagle.

    • Dominic
      Posted April 27, 2011 at 9:18 am | Permalink

      Won’t that distress the male though? Why not remove one or two & give him the chance to feed the remaining eaglet? We were saying when they laid the eggs that often one does not survive, so is it not worth giving nature a chance with that one?

  23. daveau
    Posted April 27, 2011 at 6:54 am | Permalink

    They have decided to move the eaglets from the nest to the Wildlife Center of Virginia. The move takes place at 10:00am Eastern (about 5 minutes). This is your last chance to see them in the nest.

    • daveau
      Posted April 27, 2011 at 6:57 am | Permalink

      Whoops. Carl posted that while I was reading the previous 84 comments. I guess it would pay to refresh once in a while.

    • Posted April 27, 2011 at 7:38 am | Permalink

      They are removing the chicks right now… Looks like Julian who helped with the banding.

      • Posted April 27, 2011 at 7:47 am | Permalink

        …and apparently the eaglets have grown a bit since the banding– Julian just sent down for a bigger bag to better accommodate the eaglet.

        • Posted April 27, 2011 at 7:57 am | Permalink

          All three eaglets are down. The nest is empty. I hope Papa Eagle doesn’t pine or grieve too much.

    • daveau
      Posted April 27, 2011 at 7:56 am | Permalink

      Goodbye little eaglets, and good luck. We will miss you. (…sniff…)

      • Posted April 27, 2011 at 7:58 am | Permalink

        Maybe they’ll have a cam in the Wildlife Center… (not quite the same, though).

        • daveau
          Posted April 27, 2011 at 8:01 am | Permalink

          From the commentary, it didn’t sound like it. There’s a moderated forum conference with the president of the Wildlife Center at 3:00 EDT. We should get those kind of details then. The good news is that they expect to be able to release them into the wild.

  24. daveau
    Posted April 27, 2011 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    http://www.dgif.virginia.gov/news/release.asp?id=290

  25. Posted April 27, 2011 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    Empty nest.

    Sniff.

    Right, let me try to cheer us up. A few months after I started volunteering at Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, I got to go along on a trip to the San Juan Islands for an eagle release. WPZ has a rehabilitation program for injured or otherwise temporarily incapacitated eagles; it has a great record of success.

    I think there were three. The first two just flew up into nearby trees and sat there – but the third went circling high up and then flew away east, toward the other side of the island…where it joined a bunch of other eagles who were flying around.

    It was an amazing sight. It still gives me goose bumps.

    • AR
      Posted April 27, 2011 at 8:39 am | Permalink

      Ophelia, that sounds awesome (in the traditional sense of the word)!

    • daveau
      Posted April 27, 2011 at 8:56 am | Permalink

      That must have been terrific. Thanks for that.

    • Dominic
      Posted April 27, 2011 at 9:20 am | Permalink

      The eagles are happy in a group then? Interesting.

      • Posted April 27, 2011 at 9:35 am | Permalink

        Yes I was a bit surprised by that – I hadn’t thought of them as herd animals.

        Now that they’ve become way more common around here and I’ve had plenty of opportunity to watch them it’s obvious that there must have been conspicuous and abundant prey in the area – maybe a clump of salmon – and they were all hunting.

        The keepers probably explained that at the time – I do remember that we talked about it – but I don’t remember what they said. Whatever it was, everyone was blown away by it. It was considered a spectacularly successful release.

      • Posted April 27, 2011 at 9:39 am | Permalink

        Moar.

        They don’t hang out as groups, I’m pretty sure – but in places where they’re abundant, they do just live close together. Even here in the lower 48, along the Skagit River (about 90 miles north of Seattle) there are eagles in practically every other tree during spawning season. I’ve seen them – those eagles are neighbors. So yes – they are ok with living in a crowd.

        • Dominic
          Posted April 27, 2011 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

          Thanks. You should have a website Eagle on a Wheel! A few years ago there were plans to re-introduce sea eagles on the Suffolk coast, unfortunately (in my view but not that of farmers) shelved –

          http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10303266

          They are fairly gregarious, & the same genus as the Bald Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla.

          • Dominic
            Posted April 27, 2011 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

            I mean the Haliaeetus albicilla White Tailed Eagle is the same genus as the Bald Eagle.

    • Posted April 27, 2011 at 9:29 am | Permalink

      Empty nest.

      And the worst possible kind, too.

      I hate to think of what they’re going through.

      First, Dad barely escapes with his life while he watches his spouse die in a plane crash. Then, he has to face the challenge of feeding three “teenaged” kids. And now he comes home to find the kids gone entirely.

      And the kids…first, their mom doesn’t come home, then Dad’s in a funk, and then they’re kidnapped by monsters, stuffed into sacks, and then shaken around while surrounded by the sound of an angry growling beast before being put in a very strange nest inside a cage with strange adults nearby but not close.

      I’m sure they’ll all make it through this, but can you imagine something like this happening to you?

      b&

      • daveau
        Posted April 27, 2011 at 9:35 am | Permalink

        Well, thanks for friggin’ cheering me up, Ben…

        • Posted April 27, 2011 at 10:02 am | Permalink

          Sorry…but…I mean, this family that we’ve been cheering on these past months just got ripped apart.

          The park service is making the best they can of a miserable situation, but that doesn’t make the situation any less miserable.

          It’s the same thing with humans. It’s always a really, really, really bad thing when Child Protective Services has to step in and forcibly foster children. It’s just that there’re times when not doing so would be even worse.

          Or, less emotionally, like setting a broken bone. It hurt when it broke. It hurts at least as bad getting it set (if you’re conscious). But it’ll be even worse if you don’t….

          b&

          • daveau
            Posted April 27, 2011 at 10:12 am | Permalink

            I know, I know. Just trying to inject a little humor. I mean, here’s Ophelia making a noble attempt to get us to think happy thoughts, then you come along…

            We’re all grieving.

  26. Posted April 27, 2011 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    Oh, shit.

    The male came back with a fish.

    The mods are all blubbing. I’m not entirely dry-eyed myself.

    • daveau
      Posted April 27, 2011 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

      Glad I missed that while I was on lunch.

      Ed Clark has checked in on the comments and is starting to answer questions.

  27. Posted April 27, 2011 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    He’s flown away now.

  28. Posted April 27, 2011 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    Hell.

    I couldn’t get into the cam at first, I had to keep refreshing, while reading the tearful comments…but when I did get in he was still standing there next to his fish, looking around, up, down, over there……..

    It was horrible.

    • Grania
      Posted April 27, 2011 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

      Oh god, that’s awful :(

    • Jeanine
      Posted April 27, 2011 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

      ugggh…had a family one day, the next day all alone. so heartbreaking.

    • Diane G.
      Posted April 28, 2011 at 12:09 am | Permalink

      I am so glad I missed that episode!

  29. Posted April 27, 2011 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    I was available this morning during the extraction, and snagged some clips with screen-capture software from the webcam. They can be seen at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K-MUBUD5wVo

    I used to do wildlife rehab, including raptors, but never got close to anything this size. Not to mention having no ability to scale a tree like that ;-). It was impressive watching the climber handling the eaglets without entering the nest – he knew what he was doing.

    Just a reminder to everyone out there – wildlife rehabilitators, almost without exception in the US, are private non-profits that receive no funds from local, state, or federal agencies. They can always use the help.

    • Posted April 27, 2011 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

      It was incredibly impressive watching the climber. Balancing on two vertical tree limbs (roped in of course) while stuffing a struggling eaglet into a bag – jeez.

      The trunk behaved very well.

    • Posted April 27, 2011 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

      I must say it was very poignant watching the two watch the first being caught. They had to just sit there and wait for it to happen to them. It can’t have looked at all friendly or helpful.

  30. daveau
    Posted April 27, 2011 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    I feel much better after the Q&A with Ed Clark of the Wildlife Center. Given the circumstances, it really was the best option. The eaglets stand an excellent chance of surviving and being released back into the wild. They don’t have a webcam, but they already had a project in place and have accelerated the time frame for the flight cage, where the eaglets will live for the next few months. In the meantime, they have a web page dedicated to the eaglets that should be updated daily with news and pictures.

    • daveau
      Posted April 27, 2011 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

      Of course, they appear to be under prepared for all the hits they are now getting…

  31. Posted April 27, 2011 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    For Dominic and anyone else who wonders if eagles are comfortable in a crowd –

    http://tinyurl.com/3olggz8

    • Dominic
      Posted April 27, 2011 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

      Absolutely amazing!

      Thanks Ophelia. Cheer up everyone – they will all make it to to wild, & possibly one more than would have survived, so a bit has been done to help increase the numbers of eagles & redress the harm we have done to them. The male will find a new mate.

    • daveau
      Posted April 27, 2011 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

      Holy smoke! Eagles do grow on trees!

  32. Joan Stephens
    Posted April 27, 2011 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

    There is another live eagle cam…the young ones hatched later than the Virginia ones and are still fluffy and white.

    The address is…if I have got it right-www.upstream.tv-decoraheagles

    I think it’s in Iowa. Joan

  33. Joan Stephens
    Posted April 27, 2011 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    oops…I added a p to ustream!

    should be….www.ustream.tv/decoraheagles

    Sorry….

    • Dominic
      Posted April 28, 2011 at 2:06 am | Permalink

      Fantastic! Thanks Joan – & it has a light so works in the Iowa night! :)

  34. Joseph
    Posted April 27, 2011 at 10:26 pm | Permalink

    “Nature is red in tooth and claw” in “nature” there aren’t any Boeing 757’s or Air Buses flying across migration paths, or eagle paths as in this case.


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