Harriet's eaglets prepare to fly as the nest is officially on 'Fledge Watch'
The kids are growing up.
During a difficult year that saw the loss of their mother and the extreme efforts of their father, a pair of American bald eagles at a nest in North Fort Myers are nearing their time to test their wings in flight and eventually leave the nest.
Thousands have been witness to the "birth," hatch and growth of E21 an E22. Those same thousands have also been witness to what is likely the tragic circumstances surrounding the disappearance of their mother, Harriet, the afternoon of February 2.
Harriet was, for more than a dozen years, the female progenitor of clutch after clutch of young eagles — just shy of two dozen brothers and sisters of E21 and E22.
To say she was the star of the "show" at the Bayshore Road nest would be an understatement. Even now visitors to the Southwest Florida Eagle Cam web site, where cameras watch the eagle family 24/7, bemoan her loss and describe in wistful terms the possibility that she could return.
There's no evidence that Harriet remains among the living or that she will miraculously return with her mate, M15, come fall 2023.
The matter at hand right now, however, is the pending fledge of E21 and E22.
"We are officially on 'Fledge Watch'," Virginia "Ginnie" Pritchett McSpadden, co-founder of Southwest Florida Eagle Cam, said Tuesday.
"Both eaglets are surprisingly, and against all odds, developing on track for a successful first fledge. After E21 and E22 make their first flights, they will then spend the next four to six weeks practicing flight skills, plus learning to hunt and survive on their own."
According to the Eagle Cam site, the eaglet's branching will continue until they fledge. Research by the Eagle Cam website to see the amount of time at the North Fort Myers nest showed the average is 18 days between branching and fledging with most between 14-21 days. The extreme conditions E21 and E22 grew up under could affect that time with a very different experience, mostly having just M15, could have an effect, the site said.
The site also reminded viewers: "Fledging is just the first flight, landing away from the nest tree, and return to the nest. It is not leaving for good. The eaglets are expected to be here until sometime late April to mid-May."
The last couple days has seen E21 and E22 working their wings and branching, or hopping, to various limbs on the nesting tree.
On the Eagle Cam site Wednesday morning, administrators gave viewers a heads-up: "Good morning everyone. The eaglets are damp from the fog. There has been a lot of winging and branching today. E21 has been flying from the spike, to the veranda, and first time to the attic. E22 has been to the spike, the nest, and the veranda. E22 is looking at the attic. It’s an active day so keep watching, fledging will be anytime now."
McSpadden called the current situation the best case scenario imaginable after losing Harriet.
"M has continued to be the rockstar dad he is and provided and protected in every way possible," she said.
And the website's camera's have born that out. M15, Harriett's second mate since the camera's were set in place, has been a tireless, doting father eagle. He has delivered fish and fowl, fur and feather, fresh or roadkill, since Harriet vanished.
Food deliveries at nest cause for concern
Where's Harriett; Mom eagle missing for days
Raising a family, second egg hatches
Even the illegal dropping off of food at the base of the tree, which could have resulted in federal charges, didn't interrupt M15's duties.
M15 powered through even attacks on him by neighboring owls as well as skirmishes with other eagles.
A female named R23-3 managed to land in the nest, display submission to M15, steal food from him, and at one point, allowed the eaglets to take food from her. There have also been other female eagles hanging around and enticing M15, but he kept to his care of the two eaglets.
There have been 197,196,266 visitors who have observed the goings-on at the nest via the Southwest Florida Eagle Cam over the years and, with Harriet now gone, can boast of having had a truly unique experience.
Whatever comes after E21 and E22 take off for parts unknown will be an entirely new experience as well as an intriguing guessing game until the fall.
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