The two bald eagles seemed destined for each other. They had so much in common.
Both had lost wingtips after colliding with cars — the male his left wing and the female her right — which makes the two birds almost mirror images. The birds arrived at the Blue Mountain Wildlife Center in Pendleton only months apart in 2001. Neither would fly again.
They bonded and hung out. Several years ago, they took their relationship to the next level. It was time to start a family.
Several years ago, Director Lynn Tompkins noticed the pair collecting grass and sticks and fashioning a nest on the ground in the long flight cage where they lived with other eagles. Tompkins and her staff helped by placing sticks in the cage. The aerie materialized, though in more diminutive fashion than the lofty, five-to-nine-foot-wide extravaganzas seen high atop trees in the wild.
Before long, two eggs appeared.
That year, and the three after that, the eggs never hatched. The pair remains chickless.
Nesting activity began again last week. Yesterday, the female hunkered over a single egg. Another egg will likely materialize in a day or two. The male eagle perched nearby on an old sawhorse, squawking at another male bird that repeatedly flew from one end of the cage to the other.
“He’s on guard,” Tompkins said. “He’s saying, ‘This is mine. Stay away. Stay away.’”
The female joined in the cacophony with low grunts and occasional chukking sounds.
The couple shares space with six other eagles — three bald and three golden — but did not seem eager to let them into their circle of two (or if all goes well, three, four or five).
Time will tell. Tompkins doesn’t think it will happen, but she will leave the birds alone until the typical 35-day period of incubation passes. Then, she or an assistant will steal into the cage to remove eggs and nesting material.
For now, however, the eagles seem locked on their mission.
“They both helped make the nest,” Tompkins said. “They take turns incubating.”
The female insists on the night shift.
Their six cage mates stay clear of the pair, though three of the birds took turns flying. One, an immature bald eagle recovering from lead poisoning, flew in uncoordinated circles. A golden eagle that had collided with a wind turbine sat on a shelf watching the aerobatics with almond-shaped brown eyes.
The expectant parents stayed vigilant. Both were young when they arrived at the wildlife center. Tompkins guesses the male was four years old and the female was about five — roughly the age bald eagles, which mate for life, become sexually mature.
This may be the year that a tiny eaglet cracks through eggshell and thrusts the couple into their next challenge — parenthood.
Contact Kathy Aney at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-966-0810.
This story originally appeared in East Oregonian.