PRITCHETT FAM­ILY EA­GLE CAM­ERA

View­ers track our na­tional sym­bol, at­tract­ing a world au­di­ence

RSWLiving - - News - BY WIL­LIAM R. C OX

View­ers track our na­tional sym­bol, at­tract­ing a world­wide au­di­ence

Dur­ing an in­ter­view, Gin­nie Pritchett McS­pad­den re­calls her fam­ily’s idea of plac­ing a video cam­era in a large tree di­rected at an ea­gle’s nest.

They had been ob­serv­ing a stream of vis­i­tors pho­tograph­ing the birds on Pritchett prop­erty in North Fort My­ers on Bayshore Road. The Pritch­etts have al­ways lived in South­west Florida and have deep ties to the com­mu­nity. Gin­nie’s fam­ily be­lieved in giv­ing back, she says, and the new Ea­gle Cam was a great op­por­tu­nity to ful­fill that role. Fam­ily mem­bers were hop­ing to have 100 peo­ple watch­ing the Ea­gle Cam, amazed in four years that they now have over 10,000 of us at any given minute watch­ing the live streams. The fam­ily es­ti­mates 65 mil­lion web views in 2016.

The Pritch­etts hail from Alva, Florida, where they learned to love the out­doors and wildlife. The Ea­gle Cam has pro­vided a way to ed­u­cate the public about the life his­tory of bald ea­gles (Hali­aee­tus leu­co­cephalus), en­hanced by viewer and class­room mod­er­ated chats. The Pritch­etts hope by ed­u­cat­ing the public about bald ea­gles, that more of us will take steps to pro­tect and con­serve wildlife in our own neigh­bor­hoods. As noted by the stun­ning num­ber of us watch­ing the Ea­gle Cam, they are hav­ing a pos­i­tive im­pact on wildlife aware­ness and con­ser­va­tion world­wide.

Thanks to the Pritchett fam­ily and their vol­un­teers, tens of thou­sands of us can ob­serve the life his­tory of nest­ing bald ea­gles.

Florida ea­gle in­cu­ba­tion starts as early as Oc­to­ber but gen­er­ally takes place in De­cem­ber through Jan­uary. Usu­ally one egg is laid per day and not al­ways in suc­ces­sive days. A clutch is gen­er­ally com­pleted in 3-6 days, vary­ing from one to three eggs, with two be­ing the av­er­age, such as the Pritchett nest. In­cu­ba­tion takes 32-35 days and most of the in­cu­ba­tion is con­ducted by the fe­male. Both adults brood the young. The eggs hatch 2-4 days apart and daily weight gain is sub­stan­tial, with males gain­ing 102 grams per day, fe­males 130 grams per day.

There is a chronol­ogy for nest­ing plumages from the se­cond week (na­tal

down stage held for ap­prox­i­mately 2 weeks) to the ninth through 10th weeks ( ju­ve­nile stage, ju­ve­nile plumage is fully de­vel­oped, com­pletely dark feathers). In the first few weeks, an­tag­o­nism among nest mates is at its peak. Nestlings be­gin flap­ping their down-cov­ered wings, and when new plumage be­gins to emerge they preen reg­u­larly. Af­ter 4 weeks they be­gin grasp­ing with talons, peck­ing at prey and cast­ing pel­lets. In the fifth week they stand and loudly scream. Af­ter 7 weeks their wings carry them above the nest; 8 weeks steal­ing and mo­nop­o­liz­ing food, and play be­hav­ior is very in­tense and ex­er­cise fre­quent. At 9 weeks they perch on branches and are called “lim­bers.” They fledge from the nest from 9-14 weeks, usu­ally 10-12 weeks.

The life of bald ea­gles can be very harsh and chal­leng­ing. The Ea­gle Cam does not pro­vide for in­ter­ven­tion, al­low­ing na­ture to take its course. The ea­gle pair Ozzie and Har­riet and their nest­ing his­tory, for in­stance, was un­event­ful un­til March 17, 2015, when Ozzie was found in­jured and was taken to the Clinic for the Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion of Wildlife, or CROW, on Sani­bel. He had a frac­tured clav­i­cle and other in­juries. He was treated by Dr. Heather Barron. Ozzie was re­leased that June 17, re-ad­mit­ted months later for in­juries in a ter­ri­to­rial fight with bald ea­gle M15, Har­riet’s new mate. Ozzie would succumb to his in­juries.

Last Fe­bru­ary, ea­glet E8 was res­cued from the nest with fish­ing line around a leg. And in May the ea­gle nest par­tially fell and the ea­glet pair had to perch on limbs near the nest. A great horned owl

(Bubo vir­gini­anus) at­tacked them. Ea­glet E8 was not ob­served af­ter the at­tack, but was even­tu­ally res­cued and treated for a bro­ken fe­mur. It was re­leased in good con­di­tion in Au­gust.

A mar­ket­ing spe­cial­ist with a Naples firm, Gin­nie is also the public re­la­tions and mar­ket­ing chair on the board of di­rec­tors for CROW. She men­tions that vol­un­teers have been life-savers on the Ea­gle Cam project. The Pritch­etts all have full-time jobs and, with­out their amaz­ing team of vol­un­teers, they wouldn’t be able to pro­vide the great nest ac­tiv­ity archives, pho­tos, videos and up­dates, she says.

Thanks to the Pritchett fam­ily and their vol­un­teers, tens of thou­sands of us can ob­serve the life his­tory of nest­ing bald ea­gles.

The Pritch­etts hope by ed­u­cat­ing the public about bald ea­gles, that more of us will take steps to pro­tect and con­serve wildlife in our own neigh­bor­hoods.

The Pritchett Ea­gle Cam in North Fort My­ers is po­si­tioned just over the nest ( above). Other cam­eras are di­rected at the nest from be­low.

Nest be­hav­ior can be watched on the South­west Florida Ea­gle Cam­era at swflea­gle­cam.com.

Pritchett ranch vis­i­tors line its fenc­ing to pho­to­graph and ob­serve the na­tional sym­bol. There has been drama as­so­ci­ated with the ea­gles, in­clud­ing a do­mes­tic dis­pute and preda­tor raids.

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