'Eagle cam' viewers fret over beak injury, experts say wait and see

Liz Evans Scolforo

The patriarch of York County's most famous eagle family is hurt, but experts say they aren't going to swoop in to help him. At least not yet.

The eagle at right is believed to be the male and has an injured beak. Experts on Dec. 22, 2015, said they are taking a wait-and-see approach.

Eagle fans watching the Pennsylvania Game Commission's two live-streaming eagle cameras — both trained at the nest and both with infrared capabilities to capture action after dark — began commenting on social media Tuesday that one of the eagles had suffered a beak injury, according to Karen Lippy, a Hanover-area birding expert. The nest is 75 feet off the ground in a tree on private property next to Codorus State Park.

Some viewers posted screenshots of the injured bird, believed to be the male, Lippy said.

The injury starts at the nostril and goes along the back of the beak, she said. There might be some feather damage above the eye and lower beak damage as well, she said.

"Right now, there's nothing that can be done," Lippy said. "If the bird becomes weak and unable to fly, it will be taken for rehabilitation."

Lippy said she alerted Wendy Looker, a York County-based raptor rehabilitator who is familiar with the eagle family.

Rival eagle: Looker said the eagle most likely was injured by a rival.

"There's a 3-year-old (male) eagle that's been hanging out in the park this week," she said. "It's normal for (males) to get into scuffles."

Unusually warm weather is exacerbating hormone-fueled territorial behavior, she said.

Looker said she doubts the damage was caused by a great horned owl, although people have reported hearing the eagles and great horned owls screaming at each other.

Likely the younger male eagle raked the patriarch eagle's beak with his talon as the two clashed mid-air, she said.

"We don't know (how serious the wound is) because we can't examine the depth of the injury," Looker said.

She consulted with other wildlife rehabbers and an avian veterinarian, and they all agreed on a wait-and-see approach.

Even after being injured, the male eagle was seen on camera carrying sticks and a limb to shore up his nest, according to Lippy, which bodes well — at least in the short term.

Infection issue: Looker and Lippy said they are concerned about possible infection, but Looker said it's not even known if the wound went deep enough to introduce pathogens into the raptor's bloodstream. The eagle could be at risk for "a pretty serious bacterial issue," she said.

Both experts said even if the eagle avoids infection, there could be long-term repercussions for his health.

That's because beaks grow like fingernails. If the injury causes the beak to grow so that it becomes misaligned, it could eventually affect the eagle's ability to feed, Looker said.

"But the bird may be perfectly fine," Looker said. "At this point it's not responsible to (trap it). ... The bird seems to be closing his beak properly and he's been carrying sticks."

Travis Lau, press secretary for the Pennsylvania Game Commission, said the commission has been alerted to the situation and told the recommendation is not to interfere unless the injury begins to affect the bird's health.

"Then we'd be reconsidering," Lau said.

"We're keeping an eye on it," Lippy said. "I'd be happier than anyone if we got excited over nothing."

The background: Nearly 1.5 million individual viewers from around the world tuned in to the eagle cam last year and watched, occasionally with trepidation, as two eggs hatched into defenseless pink chicks that quickly grew into ravenous gray fluff balls.

People kept watching as those eaglets grew feathers, became large and boisterous, and eventually fledged.

By mid-May 2015, there were 23.8 million live-stream views of the nest.

The eagles have nested in the area for about a decade, according to Lau.

Fans can post and view screen-grab photos on the game commission's Facebook page and by tweeting #PGCeaglecam.

— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com.