Two American bald eagles die in nest on Honeymoon Island

The birds, hatched in March, die in a Honeymoon Island nest. The cause is unknown.
Published May 29 2013
Updated May 30 2013

DUNEDIN — Douglas Yarbrough peered through his binoculars Monday and saw stillness.

In a treetop nest, a 2-month-old American bald eagle hung its head, perched beside the body of its dead sibling.

The eagles hatched at Honeymoon Island State Park in March. But by Tuesday, both were dead.

"That nest was one of the most popular sites in the whole area," said Yarbrough, a longtime bird watcher from Palm Harbor. "This shouldn't be happening."

Researchers must conduct a necropsy before they can determine a cause of death, according to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokesman Kevin Baxter.

"These birds were healthy and flapping around a few days ago. It doesn't make any sense," said Barb Walker, a conservation advocate with the Clearwater Audubon Society.

Walker applied on Tuesday for a state permit to remove the dead eaglets from the nest. She was approved Wednesday morning.

By early afternoon, Dunedin public works employees were on hand with a bucket truck, along with Honeymoon Island officials and Clearwater Audubon Society volunteers, to take the dead eaglets from their nest.

As a Dunedin city employee placed the carcasses into a bucket and a trash bag, feathers from the dead eaglets blew into the wind. On the ground, Walker and other Audubon Society volunteers examined the bodies.

After more than 36 hours of decay, only one of the 8-pound birds was in proper condition to undergo a necropsy. That eaglet was taken to the Bronson Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory in Kissimmee, where lab results will take four to six weeks.

The deaths come just one month after two young eagles died in Dunedin from avian pox, a disease that causes wartlike growths on the unfeathered parts of a bird's body. A third eaglet that flew away and didn't return is presumed dead.

The birds could have died for any number of reasons, including, Walker said, food contamination or mosquito-borne illness.

Honeymoon Island's osprey population has also declined in the past two years, according to Walker. Just one of the park's 16 osprey nests hosted successfully fledged osprey this spring. Walker is among those wondering why. "Without good, solid science … all we can do is guess," she said.