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Newly hatched Hanover-area eaglet dead, 2nd egg hasn't hatched yet

Liz Evans Scolforo
717-505-5429/@LizScolforoYD

Over the course of many hours Wednesday, one of the adult bald eagles nesting just outside Codorus State Park near Hanover repeatedly examined the motionless chick in its nest, gently nudging it with its beak and calling over and over for its mate.

It appears the eaglet that hatched Monday, March 28, 2016, has died.
(Courtesy of Pa. Game Commission)

The tiny gray chick never responded.

Those who closely watch the Pennsylvania Game Commission's live-steaming high-definition eagle cam began posting concerns Wednesday morning on Facebook about the chick not moving.

Others counseled patience and noted that sometimes baby birds appear to be dead when they're really just sleeping.

"A lot of times they don’t move a lot and can appear dead when in fact they’re not," said Travis Lau, the game commission's press secretary.

But by about 4 p.m., everyone — including the game commission — had lost hope.

"It's one of those unfortunate things," Lau said, but noted officials are still hopeful the second egg will hatch.

A parent eagle nudges its unresponsive chick in a nest outside Hanover on Wednesday, March 30, 2016.
(Courtesy of Pa. Game Commission)

"It appears the eaglet that hatched on Monday night ... did not survive," the agency noted on its Facebook page. "The Game Commission will not intervene in this situation. ... At this point we will continue to monitor the nest and the second egg."

No Disney ending: Wendy Looker, environmental education specialist for Codorus State Park, said the eaglet is dead.

"It's not a Disney world out there," she said. "I'm very sad ... but we have gained so much information (from the eagle cam) about egg viability, what the birds can tolerate, what they eat and what happens to them at night."

The mortality rate for eagles, and for almost all raptors, in the first year of life is about 80 percent, according to Looker, with the majority of the young birds dying after they fledge from their nests. Many of those die of starvation, she said.

There are 250 eagle nests in Pennsylvania, she said.

"I have no idea what's responsible for the early deaths of chicks," she said, including Hanover's eaglet. Trying to retrieve the chick's body to examine it could spook the parent eagles from the nest and endanger the remaining egg, she said. It also would violate federal law, the game commission said.

Cause unknown: Looker said the parent eagles were primarily hunting fish, and she saw no rodents or ducks being brought to the nest. Dead ducks and other animals can sometimes contain lead shot from hunters, which experts say causes a slow and painful lead-poisoning death for the birds.

Rodents can have rat poison in their systems, which also can kill predators that eat them, Looker said. And she doesn't believe exposure is an issue for the Hanover chick either, meaning no one will ever know for sure what happened, she said.

Looker said if the second egg is viable, it should hatch in the next day or two.

There's been an outpouring of grief on various Facebook pages devoted to the eagle nest.

"I hate this," one person wrote.

"It is a very sad day at the nest," another posted.

World watches as first eaglet hatches outside Hanover

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.

This image, a screen grab from the eagle cam, was posted on Facebook.
(Courtesy Pa. Game Commission)

By mid-May 2015, there were 23.8 million live-stream views of the nest. So far this year there have been somewhere around 600,000 unique views, according to Lau.

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

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