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Two Beloved Bald Eagles Rebuild Their Nests After Hurricane Ian

Animal instinct told Harriet and M15 to go. The bald eagles, a female and a male respectively, left their slash pine tree in Fort Myers, Florida — their home during the annual mating season — in search of shelter a day before Hurricane Ian struck.

It is not clear where the couple will go to weather the storm. Days later, much like during the aftermath of Hurricane Irma in 2017, the eagles returned to the tree in search of their nest 60 feet above the ground.

But it was “completely gone,” said Ginnie Pritchett McSpadden, co-founder of the Southwest Florida Eagle Cam, a series of live cameras set up in 2012 to allow millions of birdwatchers to watch the pair 24/7. “There was not a single baton left,” she told The Washington Post. (The family is working to reset the live stream after the cameras went off when the power went out during Ian.)

So Harriet and M15 got to work. Day after day, the couple has spent their time foraging for sticks, twigs, moss and other materials, returning them to their tree to build a nest for their future babies.

“It has given many people hope and strength to see that as people continue to build and strengthen, the eagles are doing the same,” said McSpadden, 38. “If they take the next steps, so can we.”

In 2012, McSpadden and her family set up the cameras for Harriet and Ozzie, the original adult bald eagle pair that has been coming to this nest on their property since 2006. Ozzie, a male, died in 2015. Shortly afterwards, Harriet and M15 bonded. This year marks their seventh season as a linked pair on their property, McSpadden said.

Harriet usually has her eggs laid on Thanksgiving, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the couple is racing against the clock. If it takes more time to rebuild the nest, Harriet can always lay her eggs later, as the mating and breeding season runs from October to May, Breanna Frankel, rehabilitation manager and admissions specialist at the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife, told The Post. .

Sometimes a female will lay her eggs, but they will not hatch or the baby bald eagles will not survive. In those cases, it’s still possible for the female to lay another set of eggs, said Frankel, who is familiar with Harriet and M15 and was part of Ozzie’s care team when she arrived at the clinic in 2015.

This isn’t the first time a natural disaster has forced the two birds to rebuild. In 2017, the couple’s nest was partially wiped out during Hurricane Irma. It is also common for bald eagles to upgrade their nests with more perches every year.

“It seems unusual,” Frankel said. “But at the same time, it’s happening around the world more than you might think.” Sometimes bald eagles’ nests — which can weigh hundreds of pounds and span several feet — become so heavy that they fall apart or cause the tree to collapse. “They are huge.”

For now, Harriet continues to examine the twigs and branches that M15 brings for approval. The nest should be as she pleases, a choice the female must make, Frankel explained.

“They evolved with our environment and they evolved to survive,” Frankel said. “Either way, they will withstand whatever happens.”

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