Eagles Clash in D.C., Leaving Hatchlings in Jeopardy

BySTEPHEN BRANDON

April 7, 2006 — -- Washington is a cutthroat town, as two bald eagles learned recently.

The birds, nicknamed George and Martha by nearby construction workers, have nested near the Woodrow Wilson Bridge in Washington every year since at least 1999, when they were first observed.

But on Wednesday a younger female eagle attacked Martha, who was just days away from hatching her eggs.

The attack was fairly typical behavior among eagles, said Mike Baker, environmental manager for the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project.

The younger, stronger female engaged the resident eagle in an effort to usurp her position. "She wants the nest, she wants the husband, and she wants the young," said Baker. It remains to be seen if the new eagle will succeed, but the attack put Martha's offspring at risk

Right now is "a very sensitive time for the hatchlings," said Baker. Officials don't know exactly how many eggs are in the nest, but they estimate a clutch of two to three eggs based on George and Martha's past.

The attack left Martha with numerous injuries, and she was taken to a veterinary facility in Delaware, leaving George all alone to tend to the eggs. Though there is hope for Martha's recovery, no one is quite sure what will happen to the eagles or the hatchlings.

Much of the fight happened in the air, where the two eagles began fighting after Martha left her nest in search of food. Randy Graham, a construction inspector, said he and other spectators working on the bridge watched as the two eagles engaged in "a long drawn out battle."

Martha was knocked to the ground, but the two eagles continued to brawl. They finally stopped when Graham made his way down to where they were and shouted at the birds.

Graham said the older bird was left "bloody from head to foot."

After consulting the Fish and Wildlife Service, Graham and Stephanie Spears, an environmental specialist working with the bridge project, and two others went to collect the eagle as it tried to hide under a fallen tree. Martha was eventually coaxed into a trash can and rushed to treatment.

As she recovers, George has stayed with the eggs and ignored the younger female's advances.

For now, they're keeping a close eye on the nest and even getting local fishermen to leave fish nearby.

Baker said they are doing everything they can to help George while he's a single father.

But his future plans are unknown, Baker said. George could take up residence with the younger female, he could abandon the eggs, or he could continue tending to the nest and perhaps reunite with Martha to finish raising the hatchlings together.

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