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Two females, one male bald eagle fight over mating nest

A bald eagle rests by the Fernandes’ pool after a beating from a combative female.

RUSS FERNANDES | Special to the Times

A bald eagle rests by the Fernandes’ pool after a beating from a combative female.

PALM HARBOR — He's everything she's ever wanted in a man: distinguished, a caretaker, a homeowner.

She'll do anything to get him, even if that means taking out his better half. That's exactly what the hussy tried to do Saturday, authorities said Tuesday.

No, this isn't a recap of Fatal Attraction, the famous 1987 movie starring Glenn Close and Michael Douglas. And the characters aren't people. This love triangle is playing out in the trees above a Palm Harbor neighborhood. The parties involved? Bald eagles.

According to officials at the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey in Maitland — eaglespeak for the hospital — the man-stealing flirt held the other bird down, plucked her feathers and almost killed her. The injured eagle weighed all of 9 pounds.

"Her chest looks like a Thanksgiving turkey — completely bare," said Lynda White, coordinator of the center's EagleWatch program. "She is beat up. She is just a mess."

No one knows if the male eagle was around at the time of the fight, but typically, mates don't come to one another's rescue, she said.

It all happened Saturday afternoon in the back yard of Russ and Becky Fernandes.

"My dog was barking like crazy out back," Russ Fernandes said. "I went out and looked. The eagle was out on the ground."

Bloodied and weak, she stood outside the lanai until he opened the screen door. Then she stumbled inside and into the pool.

He fished her out and notified the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary, an Indian Shores bird rescue organization that later transported the eagle to the center in Maitland. It will be several months before the eagle's feathers grow back and the center releases her. That's a good thing. "She'd just get her rear beat up again probably," White said.

Reports of eagle fights increase this time of year. Nesting season, which started Oct. 1, doesn't end until May 15. During that time, the birds jockey for places to live. In Pinellas County, where development has paved over habitats as the eagle population has soared, the problem is even more acute.

"The birds in Pinellas are suffering from loss of habitat," White said. "That's why you have so many eagles there nesting on cell towers. It's crazy compared to the rest of the state. We have seen a steady increase in territory fights as population increases and territory decreases and I think that this is a classic example of that."

The offending eagle is still on the lam and has shown no signs of remorse. Three times since Saturday's nearly fatal fight, she has tried to move into the injured eagle's home, said Barb Walker, a local volunteer with the Audubon of Florida EagleWatch program and one of the first people Fernandes called.

"She wants that nest, that house, that man," she said.

Added White: "She's probably thinking to herself, 'Why should she go out and find a mate from scratch when she's found a ready­ made home for herself?' "

So far, the male eagle has rebuffed the young lady's advances. And now, they're going at it, too. Despite the domestic squabbling, she still wants him.

"She tries to fly to the nest and he won't let her in," Walker said. "He's fighting her off and chasing her out of the natal territory. It's a real drama playing out over there."

Drama seems to follow the injured eagle. Someone shot her in January 1996, fractured her right ulna and punctured her femur. She was so badly injured that the Audubon center kept her for two years while she recuperated and regained her strength. The center released her 6 miles northwest of Brooksville on Feb. 24, 1998.

"We hadn't heard from her since," the center's Dianna Flynt said in an e-mail Sunday to Walker.

White said the male eagle can only fend off the female's advances for so long. Eagles take turns incubating. While one sits on the eggs, the other feeds itself, returns to the nest and exchanges roles.

"Raising chicks is a two-parent job and this bird cannot continue to feed itself and keep the eggs warm," she said. "I wouldn't be surprised if he finally realizes this would be a lot easier if he had help. I'm thinking he's going to get really tired of this routine very quickly and she will move in."

"They live these soap opera lives," Walker said. "It's almost as if they were people."

Rodney Thrash can be reached at rthrash@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4167.

.FAST FACTS

You can help

Care for the injured bald eagle will be costly. There will be antibiotics, X-rays, trips to the veterinarian, staff time. Donations can be sent to the nonprofit Audubon Center for Birds of Prey at 1101 Audubon Way, Maitland, FL 32751. For more information, call (407) 644-0190 or go to
www.audubonofflorida.org.

Two females, one male bald eagle fight over mating nest 12/01/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 2, 2009 10:59am]
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