Hanover nest's resident female eagle returns, fighting expected

Junior Gonzalez
York Dispatch

Things are about to get scrappy on the next “As the Nest Turns ...”

That’s the soap opera title jokingly provided by avid bird watcher Karen Lippy, who has been tracking the latest developments in a fight between two female Hanover-area eagles for a nest near Codorous State Park.

Disappearance: Three weeks ago, a female newcomer nicknamed Lucy ate an egg from a nest she’s essentially taken over from the former female resident, Liberty.

More:Hanover eagle intruder exerts dominance, eats eggs

Liberty and the male referred to as Freedom had resided at the nest together for about six years before Lucy intruded.

York County's pair of bald eagles, nicknamed Liberty and Freedom, sit in their nest near Codorus State Park with their first egg of the year, laid at about 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 20.
(Photo capture courtesy of the HDonTap livestream and the Pennsylvania Game Commission)

Lippy said she thought Lucy — a large eagle that she said dwarfs the former resident pair — had killed Liberty in a fight.

Liberty is 18 years old, after all, while Lucy is about 5, a prime age for strength, speed and wit, according to Lippy.

Cameras that livestream the nest 24 hours a day went down for two days starting Saturday, March 17, and after the stream came back online the following Monday, Lippy couldn’t find Liberty.

More:Second egg of the season for Hanover-area eagles

More:Hanover eagle expert's newest book is the first in a trilogy

“Liberty disappeared and was not seen for some time,” she said — until last week.

On Saturday, March 31, there was a “terrible fight” between two eagles that went on for more than two hours, Lippy said. There were five eagles in the area, she said, so it was difficult to determine who was who.

However, several viewers of the eagle cam stream began stating that Liberty had returned.

Lippy initially dismissed the claims on social media, thinking Liberty had indeed been killed by Lucy.

Liberty returns? Lippy went near the nest site Thursday evening, April 5, to grab images of what she thought were Lucy and Freedom — the male bird — perched on a tree branch. But upon reviewing the images at home, she noticed something was off.

The bird beside Freedom was not as big as Lippy remembered Lucy to be.

She said Lucy is the largest eagle she has seen in the 35 years she’s been bird watching and added Freedom could only appear that comfortable around two eagles: Lucy or Liberty — and that wasn’t Lucy.

A past image, left, shows the size difference between recent intruder female eagle Lucy and resident male eagle Freedom and a photo taken Saturday, April 7, right, of Freedom and an eagle closer in size.

After extensively reviewing images she’d taken on the ground along with footage from the eagle cam throughout the weekend, Lippy concluded Sunday morning, April 8, that the bird recently seen was indeed Liberty.

“The fact that Liberty is back, when many of us had written her off ... was really an amazing fact,” Lippy said.

She said she thinks Liberty’s age and experience gave her the wisdom to pick her battles and survive what would otherwise have been a fairly lopsided fight between an older eagle and a younger competitor.

Melodrama continues: With Liberty’s return seemingly confirmed, Lippy now says the fight between resident and intruder is just getting started, and she anticipates more brawls in the coming week.

She said the recent fighting seen was different from typical eagle fights she’s witnessed.

Many bird fights occur high in the sky, with some eagles using height to their advantage to virtually vanish in the sky, but the recent eagle fights have occurred very close to ground level.

“They almost fell in the water,” Lippy said, referring to Lake Marburg in Codorus State Park, near the nest site. 

As with her research in determining Liberty’s identity, Lippy said developments in the ongoing fight for the nest will be best determined by on-the-ground observations and through the eagle camera stream provided by HDonTap, Comcast, Codorus State Park and the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

“It’s like a big puzzle,” she said. “You have to find out what’s going on.”

Still, the stream has made the project into much more than a local treat. Lippy said tourists from Austria, Spain, Germany, Ireland and many other countries around the world have arrived in Hanover to see the birds first hand, which she credits to the worldwide reach of the eagle cam livestream.

“This is an amazing thing that’s provided to us by the game commission,” she said. “If we didn’t have the camera (stream), we wouldn’t nearly be as aware of what’s been happening.”