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After the storm, bald eagles ‘Nick’ and ‘Nora’ left desperately searching for their eaglets

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Posted at 7:43 PM, Jun 02, 2024

DALLAS, Texas (CNN) — The squawking cries from a pair of bald eagles pierce the treetops of an urban jungle on the edge of a popular lake in Dallas.

The beloved eagles are perched 75 feet high over their nest, damaged by a violent storm system that ripped through North Texas on Tuesday. Inside the nest were the bald eagle’s two 9-week-old eaglets, thrown from their sanctuary by hurricane-strength winds.

The mother and father have spent the days since the storm circling and searching for their offspring on the ground below. The scene has been heartbreaking to watch for Chris Giblin, an amateur photographer who has spent three years documenting the eagles.

“It hurts,” said Giblin. “It hurts to see them hurting. Nothing is promised when these storms come through.”

This bald eagle family has developed a legion of followers and admirers since they made this spot around White Rock Lake in East Dallas their home nearly three years ago. They came to be known as “Nick” and “Nora” after the husband-and-wife detective characters in the 1930s film “The Thin Man.”

Their every move has been documented in neighborhood Facebook groups and by a devoted and highly protective contingent of photographers. The eagles have so intensely captured the imagination of the neighbors below them that residents speak of these raptors in mystical terms and their presence as “divine intervention.”

The eagle’s nest sits in a sycamore tree at the end of Krista de la Harpe’s street. She describes the relationship between the birds and the neighborhood as a “three-year love story.”

As the storm hit the city, she could only think about the eagles and their babies surviving the fierce winds and falling trees.

“I was in my closet all through the storm, just praying for them,” de la Harpe said as she watched the eagles sitting in the trees this week. “It’s so heartbreaking.”

‘I found one’

After the storm passed, neighbors raced out to check on the nest and the eagles. Water was rushing over the banks of the creek below the nest. The fierce winds toppled a mix of large oak, cedar and American elm trees, and the eaglets were nowhere to be seen.

Brett Johnson, an urban biologist and conservation manager for the City of Dallas, raced to the park after the storm. He saw half the nest was gone and that the two eaglets were missing.

Later that morning, Bryna Thomson searched the creek area with neighbors when she heard her friend shouting, “I found one. I found one. I found one.”

The video she captured shows an eaglet shivering and soaked in rain but seemingly not severely injured, even eating a fish it had caught in the floodwaters.

“They were healthy babies,” Thomson said.

The neighbor called in to report what they had found. Johnson says he collaborated with state game wardens and US Fish and Wildlife Services to get permission to handle the federally protected bird and move it to a rehabilitation facility that specializes in treating bald eagles. The facility did not respond to CNN’s request for an interview.

Sunday morning, specialists with the Blackland Prairie Raptor Center brought the surviving eaglet back to its nesting area around White Rock Lake in hopes it will quickly reunite with its parents. Nick and Nora were seen flying around the area and specialists say they hope the parents will hear the eaglet squawking and return to care for it.

The second eaglet has not been found and officials say it’s likely the bird did not survive. Downed trees have made it impossible for searchers to safely access the spots where the eaglet might have fallen. The area is also home to bald eagle predators like coyotes and bobcats.

The raptor specialists brought the recovered eaglet to the wooded area in a large crate. The bird’s face was covered in a hood to keep it from seeing and experiencing this confusing environment.

Hailey Lebaron, a rehab specialist with the Blackland Prairie Raptor Center, secured the eagle and carried it up the stairs and placed it in a makeshift nest that was made just for this moment.

Lebaron removed the hood from the eagle’s head and the bird immediately extended its wings and rustled around the nest. It reacted just the way the specialists wanted it to when the bird realized there was a strange creature – a human – so close to it.

“Luckily, it was not happy,” Lebaron said. “The feathers raised up, which is their, ‘Look at how scary I am.’ It’s a great sign for us.”

After the eaglet was recovered Tuesday, rehab specialists gave the raptor a full exam which included x-rays and blood work. The bird was deemed healthy enough to return to the wild after it was monitored for several days.

By Friday afternoon, the rehab team knew it was racing against the clock. After a week of separation, it’s more likely the parent eagles would abandon their offspring.

“We had to jump into action,” Lebaron said. “It’s really, really time sensitive if we wanted it to work. Otherwise, the baby would be rejected by the parents.”

Rehab facility volunteers will now work in two-hour shifts until Monday evening to monitor the eaglet from about 100 yards away. If the parents do not return to the eaglet by then, officials say the bird will likely be brought back to the Blackland Prairie Raptor Center.

If that happens, facility officials say they will then protect the bird until it can properly fly and learn how to hunt and take care of itself. At that point, the bald eagle would be released into the wild but in a different location, away from its territorial parents.

Earlier in the week, Scott Meril, a retired medical doctor, came to the nesting area to capture photographs of the mourning eagle parents. The images show one of the eagles squawking into the sky with its head tilted back in a pose that seemed to capture the bird’s desperation.

Meril said he was struck by the eagle’s majestic and powerful stare as they scanned the urban landscape looking for the eaglets.

“To see them in Texas, it’s wild,” Meril said.

‘You can’t fight this stupid Texas weather’

This isn’t the first time tragedy has struck Nick and Nora’s quest to bring a successful clutch of eggs into the world.

In February 2022, the mating bald eagles built a nest in the same area near White Rock Lake. Residents came from across the city to catch a glimpse of the new stars of the neighborhood, waiting for the babies to hatch. But a severe storm with fierce winds ripped the nest and the tree branches apart. The eggs fell to the ground.

“They have been through a lot,” said Johnson.

In 2023, Nick and Nora built a second nest around White Rock Lake but abandoned it and never laid eggs. Johnson says the nest was built in an area that was probably too close to the crowds of people who use the lake for recreation.

This year, residents thought the eagles had finally succeeded. The eaglets were just a week or two away from being able to fly on their own. At that point, Nick and Nora would teach them how to hunt for their own food.

The day before the storm Giblin captured stunning images of the small birds “branching” out of their nests – the first attempts to jump from their nests onto nearby tree branches.

The cycle of natural life seemed so close to becoming complete, but again nature intervened in a tragic way.

“They just can’t catch a break,” Thomson said. “They were good parents, and it’s just that you can’t fight this stupid Texas weather.”

Yellowstone comes to Dallas

While bald eagles can often be found near large cities, it remains rare for eagles to nest and mate in busy urban areas. This is why Giblin and a group of photographers have spent countless hours documenting the couple.

Giblin, who works for a merchandising company, estimates he has snapped more than 20,000 pictures of the eagles since they started appearing regularly here three years ago. He’s so dedicated, he once spent 7 hours waiting to capture a single shot of the eagles flying from their nest. He equates the bald eagles’ presence in Dallas to having Yellowstone National Park in the city

“In this metropolis, they chose to nest right here. It’s absolutely crazy,” Giblin said.
“That’s why I’m down here every weekend. I don’t take it for granted.”

Thomson, a middle school science teacher, says the bald eagles have brought her neighborhood closer together. She often sets up a spotting scope connected to an iPad, which she calls “Eagle TV,” so children can watch the eagles up-close.

“They’re the coolest birds ever,” Thomson said. “I’m not really a bird person, but apparently I am. Because I sure do like the bald eagle.”

These Dallas eagle lovers worry years of disappointment might convince Nick and Nora to abandon their lives around their neighborhood lake and look to build a nest elsewhere. The majestic birds don’t realize they’re the main characters in a love story their neighbors don’t want to end.