New River eagles suffer another setback
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The tale of Whitey and Streaky, two New River Gorge eagles who recently flew into the spotlight after the male survived being hit a train, again turned tragic.
The pair of eagles was guarding a nest holding two eggs when an Amtrak train hit Whitey, the male, on St. Patrick's Day.
The pair of eagles is nesting about 60 feet off the ground in a tree on an island in the New River. The nest is along W.Va. 20 between Brooks and Sandstone in Summers County.
Although Whitey has returned and appears to be no worse for wear, the nest has failed, said Wendy Perrone, executive director of the Three Rivers Avian Center.
"There are now no eggs in the nest," she said.
Perrone is unsure exactly when the two eggs were removed from the nest, or what happened to the clutch.
"We didn't see anything we could point to," Perrone said. "All we know for sure is that there aren't two eggs in the nest any longer."
It is possible one of the eagles ate the eggs once it became clear they would not hatch this season, she said.
"Sometimes they lay eggs that are infertile," Perrone said.
Although the loss of the eggs is sad, Perrone does not believe it's a sign of serious concern for the state's eagle population.
She and others at the center believe other nests in the area will produce hatchlings this year.
"We're obviously saddened by the loss, but in the grand scheme of things we think everything will be fine," she said.
Twenty-five birds were counted in the New River Gorge in January, Perrone said.
Perrone thinks Whitey and Streaky will nest in the same location next year. The two have remained in the area even though their eggs are gone.
"They may be gone for hours at a time now, but they still come back and sit on the nest next to each other," she said.
Eagles typically lay eggs every year but not more than one clutch per season, she said.
"So we won't have any more eggs from this pair this year."
Perrone is still pleased with Whitey's return and the fact that both eagles appear still to be nesting in the area.
"Sometimes nature doesn't do what we want it to do," she said. "But in this case we have a very pretty picture because we still have Whitey and Streaky together."
Whitey was hit by an Amtrak train moving about 50 mph.
Representatives with the Three Rivers Avian Society, as well as Parks Service personnel, looked for the bird after the incident but were initially unsuccessful.
However, Whitey was spotted on the nest three days after being struck by the train.
Bald eagles share duty when incubating eggs. The eggs almost certainly would have perished if Whitey had not returned because the female, Streaky, wouldn't have been able to guard them and hunt at the same time.
Streaky also might not have remained on the nest had her mate not returned. Bald eagles mate for life.
Whitey's return means the pair likely will remain in the nest next to W.Va. 20, Perrone said.
"We just hope Whitey has learned to stay off the tracks," she said.
Whitey was sitting on the tracks just before the train hit him.
Bald eagles historically remain in their nests year after year, she said. The animals also continuously add on to their nests, making them larger season after season.
"Some eagle nests are just gigantic," Perrone said. "There's one near the shuttle launch site in Cape Canaveral that NASA estimates weighs 5 tons."