Nature lovers in Southwest Florida are saddened with the passing of E3, the older of the two eaglets being raised by Ozzie and Harriet. The baby died early Sunday morning in the nest on the Pritchett Real Estate property off Bayshore Road.
"E3," who a few weeks ago was the more robust of the two who dominated its younger and smaller sibling for the share of the food, had seen its health deteriorate over the past several days, according to Andrew Pritchett of Pritchett Real Estate.
"We did notice deterioration in E3's health. We've been keeping an eye on it, even though there's not much we can do," Pritchett said. "We have been e-mailing the Fish and Wildlife Commission to keep them aware of the situation."
Pritchett said E3 hadn't been eating a whole lot and was breathing heavily before it was discovered Sunday morning it had passed away.
Pritchett said he did not know what caused E3 to sicken, though speculation was the three days of rain and cold the area received last week certainly didn't help.
Michelle Van Deventer, eagle coordinator at the FWC, said any theory on the cause of death is just that.
"There are so many variables on what can affect young eagles. I don't know what events transpired," Van Deventer said. "I used to do necropsies on birds and it was tough to isolate specific things."
The body of E3 was still in the nest Monday morning. Despite that, traffic was normal on the Eagle Cam, and there were numerous photographers on the properties around the nest.
Greg Hill was at the church observing the nest along with several others.
"I had hoped when we finally got the sunshine that he would be OK, but it was one of those infections they get," Hill surmised. "We all feel the loss greatly. It's surprising. Everybody was so worried about E4 because it was so small and without food."
Hill said E4 spent Sunday putting grass from the nest on top of E3's body and snuggling its wing around its stricken sibling.
"It's amazing a bird at a month old has the sense to realize that something has happened. It was a touching day. There were a lot of tears," Hill said.
As for E3's body, Pritchett said he did not know if the parents would just toss it from the nest, let it decompose into the nest or if they would feed upon it. He said if they did resort to consuming it, he would consider a web a blackout of the camera.
"I've heard speculation that they feed on it. If that happens, we're thinking about shutting off the cameras because I don't think viewers can handle that," Pritchett said. "Nine times out of 10, the eaglet is removed from the nest."
If the carcass was jettisoned, Van Deventer said they could do a toxin analysis, but even that could be inconclusive.
"There's a laundry list of what could go wrong. It could be internal parasites, we just don't know."
Pritchett said he has received numerous e-mails and Facebook entries thanking the family for the eagle cam, understanding they were just observers.
"We're heartfelt for the loss of E3 and we will continue to keep in touch with local biologists who can guide us from here," Pritchett said. "We'll do what we can to protect the health of the other eaglet."