Delivery services reportedly being used to bring food to Harriet and M15's North Fort Myers nest
More than three weeks after the female eagle known as Harriet disappeared from her North Fort Myers nest, the remaining eagle, male partner M15, continues his almost around-the-clock feeding of the breeding pair's two eaglets, E21 and E22.
And while M15 seems to be able to adequately keep his two young offspring fed, there are people who have insisted he needs help and have continued bringing food, sometimes under cover of night and sometimes via delivery service, and dropping it by the nest.
Virginia Pritchett McSpadden, co-founder of the Southwest Florida Eagle Cam web site that has faithfully kept an electronic eye on the nest for the past 12 years, said artificial feeding activities by persons unknown have continued at the nest despite warnings that such activity was against the law.
McSpadden spoke with WGCU's Tara Calligan for an episode of Gulf Coast Life to air Wednesday at 2 p.m. and was genuinely frustrated at what she experienced recently.
She recounted an earlier report of a man who had dropped food at the nest and photographs sent her showing his activity.
"I just vividly remember that the bag that he had in his hand was white, and there was a white box inside," McSpadden said. "I was driving home the other night, and I saw a similar guy with the same bag and same white box. So I turned around, I waited in the driveway."
She said there was a photographer there taking photos and apparently had talked the man out of dropping off food. McSpadden interacted with the man, asking him what he was doing and what he had in the bag.
"I said, 'Can you ... tell me what's in the bag?' He goes, 'Oh, it's actually two fillets of salmon.' "
The man confirmed to McSpadden that he was a Door Dash driver, showed her his license, and said he had been hired to buy salmon at Sprouts supermarket and drop it at the tree.
"I called it into FWC," McSpadden said. "And they were going to do some investigating, but I don't know if anything ever came of it. But I was just shocked that that was the level that people are going through."
GULF COAST LIFE: Harriet and M15, what's the future ... and the present?
McSpadden said there were others also trying to feed the eagles.
"There's still a core group of people out there that think that they are doing the best and right things even though it's against federal law and really is hurting the eagles in the long run," she said. "They're starting to come out at night. And they hide behind trees when no one can see them. And this is probably the first time that I'm talking about it publicly because it is very frustrating that they continue to do so and do everything that they can to not be seen on camera."
McSpadden said she didn't know how many people are involved but that it happens almost every night if not every other night.
"We've had some issues. So again, we cannot reiterate enough that you know we put the barriers and the fences in place for people not to get too close, we put the cameras up so people would not come and visit the tree," she said. "And 15 is very nervous and likes his space. So we always ask that if you can watch the cams from home to do so and never ever interfere with with nature and put food out or any type of things like that."
McSpadden said she would love to see such activities cease.
"I don't talk enough about those nightly incidents that we get, because I just don't know how to handle it. Because I'm not a police officer. I can't go out and stop them," she said. "But I feel like my hands are tied."
An initial investigation into feeding activities at the nest was being conducted by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission (FWC). The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the issue at play involved "a behavior mitigation issue" and they were working with the FWC.
An FWC representative said the agency values the public's commitment to protecting our state's native wildlife.
"To ensure the health and well-being of Florida eagles, we encourage the reporting of any sightings of dead, injured, or sick eagles to our Wildlife Alert line at 888-404-FWCC (3922)," Senior Officer Adam Brown, an FWC public information officer, said in an email to WGCU. "As eagles typically do not venture far from their nests, reports to the hotline of live, healthy eagles are not necessary at this time. While the eagle may not return to its nest, it is likely the male can raise the chicks on its own or find a new mate for assistance."
Brown pointed out that bald eagles are protected by both the FWC and the USFWS. The state eagle rule (68A-16.002, F.A.C.), and two federal laws protecting eagles, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (BGEPA or Eagle Act). He said more information about the federal laws was avilable at the USFWS bald eagle web site: https://www.fws.gov/program/eagle-management
Brown added that feeding eagles could have negative consequences by changing the eagle’s natural feeding behavior and could cause them to associate people with food, leading to an increased risk of conflict and injury (e.g., increased likelihood of being struck by a vehicle).
He said feeding bald eagles is specifically prohibited by state rule (68A-16.002 F.A.C.) which states, “No person shall take, feed, disturb, possess, sell, purchase or barter any bald eagle or parts thereof, or their nests or eggs, or attempt to engage in any such conduct, except when such conduct is authorized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.”
If you suspect a violation of the regulations protecting bald eagles, report it to the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline by calling 888-404-3922.
For now, the future of the North Fort Myers nest and the Southwest Florida Eagle Cam is something that weighs on McSpadden.
"When I heard that Harriet was missing... I thought oh my gosh, is this [it]?", she said.
"It's been my, you know, my pet project. It's been everything that I do. For 12 years. I was like, Is this gonna be over? So I think I was selfishly thinking, oh my gosh, like, will he return what will happen? So it really is a known unknown for all of us. You know, we will always try to stream if we can if if M returns with a new mate, or if we see a new bald eagle pair altogether, you know, it'll, it'll be very interesting to see what the next kind of couple of weeks and months hold for us."
Hear more from McSpadden and the Harriet and M15 drama on Gulf Coast Life on Wednesday at 2 p.m.
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