Thanks to the modern advancement of technology, the documentation of nature in action has never been more enhanced. Today, we’re able to document rare species, amazing battles between animals, and discover characteristics of the wild world who’s stories were once only to be told by the stillness of the forest. Of course, with new video and photo records of the amazing highs in nature, we’ve also gotten better about documenting the perceived lows.
The “Eagle Cam” isn’t a completely new concept. Since the modern advancement of the internet, countless “birders” from around the globe have been able to “tune in” and watch our feathered friends in real time as they mate, construct a nest, lay eggs and care for young. The “Bird Cam” has been synonymous with many species of hawks, ospreys, and a diverse array of other raptors - but none are arguably as popular as the Bald Eagle.
An “Eagle Cam” overlooking a nest in Southwest Washington DC sits high above the city’s police academy. Presented live 24/7 to countless viewers by Earth Conservation Corps, the ECC Eagle Cam has told the story of a breeding pair of eagles aptly named Liberty and Justice. ECC’s Eagle Cam is currently on its 4th season with the pair, which have lived together in this particular area for at least 14 years, according to reports. Eagles are monogamous, generally mating for life. The pair has successfully raised many eaglets together over the years. This year, however, has been steeped with quite a tumultuous couple months for the pair. ECC runs a live stream of the cam, as well as a real-time updatable log where viewers can note their observations. In late February, Justice (the male) left the nest, and was not seen for 18 days. Liberty ended up laying two eggs while he was gone, and struggled regularly to incubate them alone. All while also fending off numerous other male suitors wanting to lay claim to her and the nest, as well as the occasional intrusions from pesky crows. Viewers noted frost had accumulated on the two eggs in the absence of the pair for several hours. The eggs were believed to be nonviable at this point.
And then last night, nature’s cycle of life unfolded as the Eagle Cam recorded a foraging raccoon entering the nest around 9:00pm, as recorded in the ECC Eagle Cam log:
"Raccoon enters nest, digs up and cracks both eggs, seems to eat from them. Left shells in nest at 9:05 p.m."
The raccoon is observed eating the eggs and searching around the nest for any other leftovers. After about five minutes, the raccoon exits the swaying nest perched high above the city sprawl of metro DC. You can watch the raid unfold below.
Forty years ago, the Bald Eagle was in danger of extinction throughout most of its range. In 2007, thanks to years of conservation efforts, it was removed from the federal list of threatened and endangered species and now resides as a species of “least concern”. They remain fully protected in the United States.
In the case of Justice and Liberty, the nest was clearly unattended. One could speculate as to what would happen if big ol’ mama eagle had been present during the raid. Turns out, thanks to the popularity of eagle cams (and raccoons), no speculation is needed because these types of raids happen (and are clearly documented) often!
An Example of Wildlife Management
While researching the raccoon raid case in Washington DC from last night, I came across several documented cases of “eagle cams” rolling live while curious ‘coons barked…’er in this case, climbed, up the wrong tree!
Just last year, footage of a raccoon attempting to raid an eagle nest in Codorus State Park was captured via a livestream through the Pennsylvania Game Commission website:
In February of 2014, an eagle cam in Pittsburgh captured a raccoon trying unsuccessfully to raid a nest:
And my personal favorite below shows a nest of hatched eaglets threatened by a foraging raccoon in Minnesota:
In these three cases, the parenting eagles weren’t taking no guff from hungry raccoons, and successfully defended their nest, eggs, and chicks. But it begs the question of how many bird nests from all kinds of species are raided each year by foraging raccoons. In each of these videos, the offending raccoons don’t seem too phased or overly cautious about waltzing right into an active nest; especially when said nest is bigger than them!
Whenever someone tells you “wildlife doesn’t need management”, share this article. When someone tells you “let nature take its course”, well, also show them this article. A major supporting argument for why regulated trapping of furbearers (like raccoons) is needed on the landscape falls right in line with support for other less-abundant species (such as endangered species or, say, in this case protected species like bald eagles). While these adaptable little trash pandas appear cute and fuzzy, they’re also skilled predators. Raccoons are opportunistic omnivores, and also incredibly efficient egg-eaters. They’re also in great abundance throughout most of North America. In fact, many wildlife programs revolving around conservation of endangered species like piping plovers and other ground-nesting birds implement trapping programs to reduce predation on sensitive nests from raccoons and other furbearers - such as foxes, coyotes and skunks.
If the spread of disease, parasites, and public health weren’t enough to sell skeptics on the need for regulated trapping of abundant furbearers on the landscape, go ahead and add egg predation to the list!
Hey, we get it - a raccoon’s gotta eat too; and by no means am I faulting the furry little bandits. Don’t hate the player, hate the game; if you know what I mean.
But everyone should understand the basic concepts of wildlife carrying capacity and ecosystem balance - raccoons are a healthy and abundant species (as if the video collection above isn’t evidence enough), and many endangered bird species are not lucky enough to thrive as well as the raccoon. Bottom line, if you enjoy seeing diverse wildlife, thank your local trapper!
Want to check out more about the ECC Eagle Cam or support the cause? Check them out at www.eaglecam.org. Special thanks to Furbearer Conservation fan and supporter “En Garcia” for bringing this story to our attention.