DUNEDIN— It could have been a predator in the night, or simply young eagles bickering and hefting their growing weight around inside the nest.
Whatever the cause, Pinellas County eagle nest No. 20 collapsed Sunday morning, sending one of the three chicks inside plummeting to the ground, leaving it severely injured.
Nest No. 20 became known as "Hoover's Nest" in February after volunteers with the Florida Audubon Society put an orphaned eaglet named Hoover inside, along with the two chicks and the adult bald eagles already living there.
Even with the addition of Hoover, the nest appeared to be thriving — until Sunday.
"The nest fell down, and we don't know if it's Hoover or not," said Pinellas County Audubon Society coordinator Barb Walker.
The eagles are around 8 weeks old and almost indistinguishable from one another, covered with dark brown feathers.
All three of the chicks are still a few weeks shy of growing the type of feathers necessary for flight, but still are big enough — larger than most roosters — to hop around on their own.
Arno Beken, who lives in the house below the tree, said he checked on the nest Saturday night and it appeared intact.
Sunday morning, however, neighbors saw there were only remnants of the structure between branches of the 60-foot pine, and called the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary in Indian Shores.
Christina Kugeares, a bird rescuer with the sanctuary, arrived and found the injured bird in a grassy area near bushes and a chain-link fence. The bird did not put up much struggle as a beach towel was cast over it and it was scooped up by Kugeares.
The extent of the bird's injuries was revealed when it arrived at the sanctuary around 10 a.m.
"It's not doing too well. We're just trying to save a life. It's in poor condition," said Michelle Simoneau, the sanctuary's spokeswoman.
Volunteers are planning to transport the injured eaglet to the Audubon Bird of Prey Sanctuary in Maitland, one of the best facilities in the state for treating injured eagles.
Simoneau said the bird suffered damage along the left side of its body and may have internal injuries.
For the other survivors of the collapse, life went on — albeit from a far more precarious perch. Eagle watchers reported the parents feeding the two eaglets inside the nest's remnants Sunday.
With most of the nest in a pile on the ground, however, the still-flightless eaglets are at more risk of falling or being knocked to the ground by winds or each other.
Joe Zarolinski, a birdwatcher who checks on the nest almost daily, said in recent weeks, parts of the nest, which was about the same size and weight of a small sofa, appeared to be sagging.
Dominick Tao can be reached at (727) 580-2951 or email@example.com.