EDITORIAL: Sad episode in ultimate Pa. reality show

York Dispatch
An adult bald eagle in a nest outside Hanover tends to its newly hatched chick on Tuesday, March 29, 2016.
(Courtesy of Pa. Game Commission)

Last year, when the eagles nesting just outside Codorus State Park in Hanover became parents, it was time to pass out the cigars (does that still happen?) and congratulate the new parents.

Then, if you’ll recall, we all watched and critiqued the way the adult bald eagles were, um, parenting. Was the father a deadbeat? Was he fishing for enough food? Was it too cold out there?

More than a thousand fans visit York County's eaglets in a single day

The cute little chicks with their fuzzy tufts of down were growing and discovering that age-old rite of passage, sibling rivalry. They tumbled around together until they successfully fledged.

What a happy installment of our own reality show, the Pennsylvania Game Commission's live-steaming high-definition eagle cam.

This season, it was a different outcome.

This past week, those who closely monitor the eagle cam began posting their concerns on Facebook regarding the first chick hatched. It was motionless, and the parent eagles would occasionally nudge it but it still would not move.

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

There was 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.

This week, it became apparent that the second of two eggs, the one yet unhatched, was not viable.

No chicks this year at Hanover-area eagle nest

Wendy Looker, environmental education specialist for Codorus State Park, said while it may be disappointing, this is the reality of nature.

"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.

What we gain from such access through the eagle cam is a greater understanding of and hopefully respect for the miraculous way the natural world operates.

Those who monitor the birds each season have a great opportunity to share with one another and young would-be bird enthusiasts, the way so many environmental variables affect the eagles.

While it may have its sad moments, what we gain in respect for — and understanding of — nature is ultimately worth it.