DUNEDIN — The rotting trunk snapped, and down with it came the baby, nest and all.
Hoover the bald eagle, 2 days old, was abandoned. His parents left him for dead when their tree fell two weeks ago in Kissimmee.
Though only 3 ounces, fuzzy and helpless, the eaglet's story wasn't ready to end. He was scooped up by humans and taken to the Audubon Society's birds of prey center in Maitland.
His journey from there would be a strange one, ending on Monday in Dunedin, and beginning with puppets and disguises.
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Hoover's mind was fresh. He was ready to bond. But Audubon's caretakers didn't want to risk making a human face seem too friendly. They resorted to tricking the bird.
Staffers donned camouflage and hand-fed him with an eagle puppet, said Lynda White, the center's Eaglewatch coordinator.
White also sent out a call for help to Audubon affiliates around the state.
If you have a chick or chicks around this age, she wrote, please let me know.
She was looking for a nesting couple ready to adopt, whether they knew it or not.
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Barb Walker, a coordinator for Audubon chapters in Pinellas County, got the e-mail on Feb. 4. She checked the list compiled by eagle watchers across the county, meticulously updated to note every birth, disappearance and arrival of bald eagles in Pinellas.
Nest No. 20 caught her eye.
It was off a quiet street in Dunedin, atop a 50-foot slash pine in the backyard of a retired municipal worker. It was home to two hatchlings recorded about the time Hoover was found.
It was a match.
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Arno Beken, 57, was still getting to know the family living high in his backyard when Audubon contacted him last week.
The eagle nest was the feature that sold him on the house when he bought it in October.
"I thought it was pretty neat," Beken said. He was all for the adoption. He would soon have one more eagle to watch. He said sometimes he likes to lie on his roof to see the birds soar.
Though the question remained: Would the eagles themselves be so accepting?
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As a small crowd of neighbors and birdwatchers gathered outside Beken's home Monday, professional tree trimmer and Audubon volunteer Jim Lott leaped out of a minivan, grabbed his gear bag and marched toward the objective.
Hoover, snuggled into layered towels, was in a van's cargo area. His name made sense. It was Presidents Day, after all, and President Herbert Hoover had also been an orphan.
But before the now 2.2-pound eaglet could join the nest, Lott needed to make sure that there were two or fewer babies already inside and that they were about the size of Hoover.
"If there's a third, we'll have to call it off," Lott said.
Fratricide, said eagle expert Joan Bringham, happens most often when eagles are young and competition for food is fierce.
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Lott threw a line over a branch just feet underneath the nest. An eagle took flight when it hit. Mom had left the nest.
As Lott made his ascent, dangling, securing lines and maneuvering around branches, the eagle returned, circling and swooping, screaming as the intruder inched toward her babies. She was soon joined by her mate.
Lott arrived. He snapped pictures of the babies in the nest and lowered the camera to White.
She brought the camera to the minivan and looked at Hoover, then his would-be siblings.
"They're three or four days younger," she said. "But we're good to go."
The crowd of about 30 softly cheered and clapped.
Hoover was loaded into a duffel bag tied to a rope and hauled into the treetops. Lott put him in the nest.
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As the sun set, the eagles circled their nest, hesitant to return after the invasion.
Hoover was nestled among his new siblings, though as night fell, he had yet to meet his parents.
White said that in the six bald eagle adoptions her center has performed over the years, there has not been a single rejection.
But there was still a fear.
Before the light completely vanished, one of the eagles alighted onto a branch alongside the nest. Watching.
Soon, a hawk appeared.
The eagle took flight to defend the nest. And its newest addition.