Harriet still missing; Caution urged to those with concerns about feeding, eaglet care; huge fines, prison could be result
In the name of "trying" to help, some people may, in fact, be causing harm to the current situation involving a missing female eagle in North Fort Myers.
Harriet, breeding partner at the North Fort Myers nest with M15, has not been seen around the Bayshore Road nest since late Thursday, raising all manner of concerns, worries and comments from the thousands of online viewers of the Southwest Florida Eagle Cam.
Sunday dawned with the nest's two eaglets huddled together; their mother remained missing. By Sunday afternoon she was still absent and M15 continued to collect food, feed the two eaglets, E21 and E22, and patrol the area.
Editor's note: Harriet remained missing Monday.
The drama has caused some casual observers from the web site and others to become upset and make suggestions about placing food at the nesting tree and other recommendations, some of which go against federal laws governing protected species and can result in a fine of $100,000 ($200,000 for organizations), imprisonment for one year, or both.
In fact, Sunday afternoon one person could be seen at the Bayshore Road nest site, inside the fence and placing something at the base of the nesting tree. That area is off-limits to almost anyone not authorized to be there.
It was not known what the person left, but Southwest Florida Eagle Cam officials were not pleased and urged anyone thinking of leaving food or going inside the fence to avoid that at all costs.
Others, on Facebook, indicated they had placed meat by the tree and that M15 had taken some of it,.
One of the volunteers who helps the Southwest Florida Eagle Cam, known on the site's Facebook page as Wskrsnwings, posted the following on the cam's Facebook page to help sort out some confusion over certain aspects of eagles and the law:
"Hello everyone. I am writing a public post so I can reach all of you. I’m so appreciative of all your messages but I cannot possibly answer such a high number personally.
"I have some things I would like to say regarding Harriet’s disappearance, and M15 trying as best he can to juggle caring for the E’s and defending the territory from intruders. I am heartbroken, as I’m sure you all are, wondering how this will all turn out. We just don’t know but my glass is always half full.
"I have hope of finding Harriet - I have done my own searching (with permission where needed) and will continue to search for Mom. I have hope watching Emmers (M15) juggling his duties as sole provider and defender on cam - I can only pray all will be okay raising the E’s.
"Essec09 (a site administrator) posted a statement .... about our role in all of this. I have copied and posted it below:
Essec09 (Admin): Morning. The property/camera owners (Pritchetts) and our extended family are all concerned for Harriet; who has not been seen on camera since Thursday afternoon. When she left the camera view (ENE) she had been vocalizing at intruders in the area. Both the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW) and FWC are aware of the situation.
"All decisions concerning Bald Eagles are made by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), not by the camera owners. Viewers are reminded that we are merely observers and not all nesting seasons result in a positive outcome.
"Not only are SWFEC followers keeping an eye out for Harriet; local news media picked up the story. It is hoped many in the area are also keeping an eye out for Harriet.
"The Pritchetts have conducted a search on their property. This search did not result in any conclusions. The search on the property had to be conducted by the property owners. This is a working boarding facility and there are liability issues that must be adhered to.
"There are a number of comments that have been posted on Facebook as to what should be done. These individuals apparently do not understand how some actions can be detrimental to wildlife. Laws are put in place because it is a slippery road when you say, “we can do this now because of this” — but later say “it is not okay because of this.” Laws can’t be effective if they are not interpreted the same way.
"Any information as to the welfare of wildlife should come from the proper authorities. PLEASE DO NOT INCITE ILLEGAL ACTIONS.
"Baiting or artificial feeding encourages bold behavior - birds often fight over access to food. By presenting food near the nest/road it encourages more wildlife to the area (not only birds, but small mammals). This is a recipe for disaster - especially in SWFEC’s location. Not only does it bring more predators, there is the risk of accidents involving motor vehicles and power lines.
" Artificial feeding can also lead to eagles looking to humans as food providers. Not only that — some meat that is thrown out may not be safe. Where did the meat come from? Purchased meat can contain bacterial hazards, such as salmonella. Was it shot - with what? Was it found dead on the ground - how did it die?
"There are a number of laws in place to protect eagles. And there is a good reason behind each law.
"Disturbing means: “to agitate or bother a bald or golden eagle to a degree that causes, or is likely to cause, based on the best scientific information available, 1) injury to an eagle, 2) a decrease in its productivity, by substantially interfering with normal breeding, feeding, or sheltering behavior, or 3) nest abandonment, by substantially interfering with normal breeding, feeding, or sheltering behavior,” according to the act.
"A violation of the act can result in a fine of $100,000 ($200,000 for organizations), imprisonment for one year, or both, for a first offense.
"M15 has been protecting his young and has even managed to bring food to the nest. We all rejoice in that, but know it isn’t ideal. We have to remember, M15 is working things out in his head too. He isn’t used to not having a mate to care for the young. He is used to having his own time away from the nest - and it is amazing how he has quickly changed that behavior.
"At this age, it is very difficult for one eagle to raise the young alone. It is not impossible however, as one male did raise his young to fledge when the female was lost. There was also a documented nest where another eagle took over nest duties when a mate was lost. These are not that common, but in nature you can never say never.
" As is normal in their world, E21 (being the older) has become aggressive towards E22. As we have mentioned before, as long as food continues to be offered, sibling rivalry lessens. It is up to E22 to figure out how to get to the food. Just yesterday we saw E22 attempt to self-feed. Hunger is a good motivator and we hope E22 will be clever the next time food is offered. We sincerely hope both eaglets will survive these rough times.
"Reminder - M15 needs to feel comfortable leaving the nest area in order to find food for himself and the eaglets. Having so many people set up near the nest may not be in the best interest of M15’s comfort zone.
"Please be assured we all want the best outcome for this eagle family. But we need to remember the final outcome as to what will be done rests with the proper authorities."
There are those who express concern solely for the safe return of Harriet.
Kathy Summerville of Naples visited the site Sunday and watched as M15 brought a fish back to the nest to feed the eaglets.
"“ It's heartbreaking. I just felt so sorry for her little eaglets. And when I heard it on the news, I was just very, very sad.”
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