Injury to Eagle Raises Fears for Chicks

A female bald eagle living near Washington, D.C.'s Woodrow Wilson Bridge was attacked recently by another female bald eagle. "Martha" is recovering, but "George," her mate, has a difficult role as a single parent. Craig Koppie, an endangered species biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, tells Liane Hansen about the incident.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. An Avian drama unfolded this week in Washington, D.C. A female bald eagle, nicknamed Martha, was attacked near the Woodrow Wilson Bridge by another female bald eagle. Martha and her partner, nicknamed George, were nesting and expecting hatchlings. While Martha recuperates in a Delaware veterinary hospital, George has been defending the nest from intruders as well as the elements. Craig Koppie is an Endangered Species Biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He joins from his home in Severn, Maryland. Thanks for your time, Craig.

Mr. CRAIG KOPPIE (Biologist, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service): Sure.

HANSEN: Now, first of all, can George be a single parent with Martha being in the hospital?

KOPPIE: I'm afraid he's got a deck stacked against him. The timing of this episode is such that the eaglets are starting to hatch. He needs to feed not just himself, but he needs to provide food for the clutch of birds, and if the bird, George, needs to leave the next for any time, these birds will be wet and it only takes, you know, a half hour, if that, and the birds will be chilled and expire.

HANSEN: Do you know if there are actually chicks in the next or are there still eggs there?

KOPPIE: Well, we don't know the actual contents at this time, but the behavior of the male indicates that at least there is, we believe, one bird that is either about to hatch. He's pipping, something that indicates that we do have a hatchling occurring because he is standing over the nest looking at the egg and shifting around quite a bit, so maybe the little eaglets are talking.

HANSEN: How's Martha doing?

KOPPIE: I called the Tri-State, they're remaining optimistic that this bird will be re-released, but they're still hopeful that the antibiotics that they're putting into this bird will take effect, and quickly. But my biggest concern is that she may still be a bit in a weakened state if we try to push this release too early, and I do believe that she's, we're probably going to be having to hold her out for several weeks.

HANSEN: Have you ever seen or heard anything like this before?

KOPPIE: Yes, this is happening more and more. I think it's always happened, but I think as densities increase with the eagle population, you're going to have more of these skirmishes, and it just happens that as time has moved forward, most of the optimum habitat has been taken up by eagles and now the lesser habitats, which are still available are closer towards human existences and that's why I think we're seeing now more of these interactions, these behaviors that we really haven't been able to see up close before.

HANSEN: Craig Koppie is an Endangered Species Biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He joined us from his home in Maryland. Thanks a lot.

KOPPIE: Sure.

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