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Eaglet ‘bullying’ called natural

January 23, 2014
Pine Island Eagle

It's survival of the fittest atop the eagles nest on the Pritchett Real Estate Property off Bayshore Road as one of the eaglets is trying to establish the pecking order.

It's all being caught on camera, and some are having a tough time watching it on the live eagle cam.

E3, the eaglet that was hatched the Monday before Christmas, has been dominating the smaller E4 eaglet, which was born on Christmas Day, over the lion's share of the food.

Watching the eagle cam, E3 is noticeably stronger and bigger than the E4, and was observed having its way with the younger, weaker sibling, pecking at it every time a meal is forthcoming.

This has brought up one of the cruel realities of nature, that there really isn't anything anyone can do about it, not even parents Ozzie and Harriet.

Michelle Van Deventer, the eagle plan coordinator for the state Fish and Wildlife Commission, said this is typical behavior.

"Eagles are top-level predators and they compete fiercely their whole lives, for food territory, etc It's not unheard of to have fratricide, and usually the adults do not intervene," Van Deventer said. "These aspects may be difficult to watch to those who get attached."

Moderators at the eagle cam said the adults are not known to interfere, although they have been observed ending the aggression by stepping between the eaglets; by adopting a posture that suggests a feeding, but not presenting any real food; or begin brooding. Adults have even been seen to take hold of an eaglet's beak to end the aggression.

Sibling rivalry is not an uncommon occurrence, especially in the first few weeks of life, according to experts and studies done on the species.

It's called the "Cain and Abel Syndrome." The older, larger sibling will bully the smaller, weaker sibling over who gets the most food.

The older sib usually gets a hugely disproportional amount of food, further weakening the younger sibling, putting its probability for survival in peril.

For eagles, this especially happens when the older eaglet is female, battling with her male counterpart, Van Deventer said, adding it's in the female's nature to be aggressive.

"Females are larger and when they fight for nest territory they will fight to the death or a younger female to take over the nest of an older female," Van Deventer said. "It's an aspect of their survival and the males are at a huge disadvantage."

Moderators have said the squabbles are "lessons learned which will help them cope when they are on their own," and that the aggression is usually seen during the first three weeks and lessens as they get older.

As the week developed, E4 is now getting a larger share of the food, which was a source of relief for many viewers.

At the church on a chilly Saturday morning last week, a dozen or so birdwatchers held their pilgrimage near the nest, talking at length about the sibling rivalry.

Janis Rittenhouse, from Hudson, 30 minutes north of Tampa, was especially emotional when she saw E4 get fed.

"I've been watching the camera for two years and can't help but get attached even if they are wild," Rittenhouse said. "I was a basket case when I saw them learn to flap and get on the branch. Every experience is brand new, so it's a privilege to see it."

"One meal does not ensure survival. It's a tough situation to watch," said Carla Sabin, of North Fort Myers, a moderator for the chats regarding the eagles. "Laws prevent any intervention at this nest."

The live cam, courtesy of Dick Pritchett Real Estate, may be viewed at dickpritchettrealestate.com/eagle-feed.html .

As of Thursday, both eaglets were getting their share of food.

 
 

 

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