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Pair of eaglets make selves at home in Pinellas

ST. PETERSBURG — The brother and sister were as different as night and day.

The boy, a feisty eaglet of 6 weeks, was prone to biting and hissing. The girl, a few days younger but bigger, was more apt to bury her head and hide.

Ten days ago, the young bald eagles were snatched from their Palm Beach County nest by the Florida Audubon Society.

But it was for the best, said Lynda White, the society's EagleWatch coordinator.

Their sagging tree on a Lake Okeechobee dike was in the path of an Army Corps of Engineers construction project.

But two families of eagles in St. Petersburg, with characteristics seemingly tailored to their unexpected kin, took them in Monday.

• • •

White called the bird "sweetheart" when she was lifted from a minivan at a St. Petersburg cemetery. The siblings were being split up to avoid overburdening their adoptive parents. It would likely be the last time they would see each other.

The eaglet's eyes were wide, reflecting the crush of television cameras.

Her would-be parents slowly circled far overhead, barely visible squiggles in the clear sky.

The nest that would be her new home is one of the oldest in the county, with the same bald eagle pair returning there every year for at least the past 20.

The eaglet let out a short warble, and its world went dark. It was put into a duffle bag without a struggle.

Cemetery groundskeepers lounged nearby on a truck, watching the commotion of bird watchers with telephoto lenses documenting the scene.

"They leave when it gets hot, come back when its cold up north," said Lewis Gibbs, one of the workmen, of the nesting pair. "Like old folks, from Canada."

The female was put into the nest by Jim Lott, a professional tree climber and Audubon volunteer. The eaglet's new sibling acted as if it was nothing new.

The eaglet's introduction to its new home began with a whisper; her brother's would soon start with a screech.

•••

Patricia Terrell planted a 7-foot-tall eucalyptus tree in her back yard nearly 40 years ago.

Now 100 feet, it towers above her south St. Petersburg neighborhood.

Three years ago, a pair of bald eagles chose to build their nest there. And now, Terrell, mother of four, grandmother of 13, was about to welcome what she jokingly called "a 14th grandchild" Monday afternoon.

The male eaglet was stirring in a covered cage on her back porch.

For Lott, the tree climber, the eucalyptus was gorgeous. "My tree climbing buddies would love this one," he said.

The eagles there thought so too — and they would fight to keep him out.

As Lott was halfway up, the nesting pair began to swoop and dive, shrieking, turning tight, menacing circles around him.

And then they landed, one in front of him, one behind, just feet from Lott as he was under their nest. The pair took off again and circled as Lott continued upward.

"I've never seen eagles do that before," said White, the eagle expert.

This pair was as aggressive as the new chick they would soon welcome.

The bird bit White's cheek as she moved it from the cage to a bag to hoist up the tree.

"This one's a pistol — be careful, Jim," she shouted to the man in the tree.

But once the young eagle was in the nest, the parents circled and then stared at it from a nearby tree, keeping watch as fiercely as they did when the nest contained only their two original chicks.

Dominick Tao can be reached at (727) 580-2951 or dtao@sptimes.com.

fast facts

Eagle update

Last month, the Audubon Society placed an orphaned eagle named Hoover into a Dunedin nest with two other chicks. Hoover, then a fuzzy chick, is now a healthy, brown-feathered young eagle, as are his adoptive siblings.

Pair of eaglets make selves at home in Pinellas 03/08/10 [Last modified: Monday, March 8, 2010 10:41pm]
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