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When a baby eagle in distress streams live, should humans intervene?

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A live view of the bald eagle nest at Big Bear Lake. The nest is on the San Bernardino National Forest.

When you love an eaglet, sometimes you have to let it go, a U.S. Forest Service biologist says.

It has been a rough few weeks for Southern California's baby bald eagles — and for local eagle lovers, too. 

Last week, the only surviving baby eagle living in the Angeles National Forest was presumed dead after the San Gabriel Canyon nest toppled from its tree.  

This week, fans of the Big Bear eagle's nest noticed something was amiss with its last baby eagle, Stormy, while watching the nest's live video stream.

Robin Eliason was quickly on the case. She's a biologist with the U.S. Forest Service. Big Bear's little-feathered friend was seen with his right leg caught in fishing line early Monday morning. But by the afternoon, Stormy had freed himself and now seems to be doing well.

Stormy lives!

The fishing line came in the form of a trojan horse of sorts. Live stream observers say the parent eagles, Jackie and Mr. B, brought a fish to the nest with the fishing line within.

Stormy was not available for comment.

Intervention is a cost-benefit analysis.

When a wild animal is in danger, forest experts like Eliason have to decide if getting involved will do more harm or good. In this case, they wanted to give Stormy a chance to resolve his problem on his own.

Their main fear was that Stormy would get spooked by a human messing with the nest, and possibly jump out of the nest in a panic. He's eight weeks old, an age where he's getting ready to fly but doesn't yet have the skill. "Stormy has been practicing with his wings and does these fly-hops in the nest," Eliason said. While fledglings learning to fly is an adorable image, such a hasty jump would mean certain doom for Stormy. 

But if the eaglet was immobilized or in a more perilous situation, the risk of intervention could be worth taking. And if the biologists decide they do need to touch the nest after all, it’ll be safer in a few more weeks as Stormy’s flight skills mature.  Eliason said, “he would be more likely to take a long glide and not just fall straight down.” 

Rest in peace BBB

Stormy’s brother, BBB, (short for Baby Big Bear) passed away last month after a rainstorm dropped temperatures below freezing. The chicks’ feathers had not yet developed the kind of weather-proof insulation adults have. “The chicks at that point were too large to fit fully under the parents," said Eliason. "We assume BBB succumb to hypothermia and exposure.”

Raising eagles: an emotional rollercoaster

It’s super cool to have eagles making their home in Southern California. They’re beautiful and a promising indication of environmental progress. And the ability to follow their progress through video live stream can be pretty exciting.

But before you get emotionally invested in these little guys, remember nature can be harsh. And the eagle chicks face some stark odds growing up. "Bald eagle survivability during the first year is about 50 percent," said Eliason. "So it’s a hard life being an eagle." 

Forest biologists and nature enthusiasts alike are hoping to learn a lot by observing eagle families like the nest in Big Bear. Stormy’s close-call is actually pretty informative unto itself. “This is the third time since the eggs hatched and that we’ve had manmade material show up in the nest and pose a threat to the chicks,” said Eliason. She says the Forest Service is working with other groups to reduce manmade dangers. 

“Empty nest syndrome” is for the birds

Unlike human parents, who often struggle to usher their adult children out of the house, Stormy will have a hard deadline to move on in the coming months.

“Stormy will probably be chased out of the territory by his parents," said Eliason. "Especially once they have new eggs in the nest next year, they will probably not tolerate Stormy in the same area.”

Until that moment comes Stormy, enjoy the free room and board while it lasts. And for Pete’s sake, stay out of trouble.

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