Bald eagle 'Dad' dies after being plucked out of Centerport pond
The bald eagle known as "Dad" died during the predawn hours Friday, a day after a cold-water rescue in Centerport raised hopes that he would recover, according to the administrator of the Facebook page that has documented the bird's life.
Robert Schwartz, one of the administrators of the Facebook page Bald Eagles of Centerport, N.Y., said Friday that he learned that Dad had died around 3:30 a.m. The eagle and his mate, "Mom," had a following of 26,255 members on the social media site.
"It hasn’t sunk in yet because when you spend six years with a pair of eagles every single day and then one of them is no longer with us, it’s hard to sink in," Schwartz said Friday. "Everyone’s grown attached to them … [it] just hurts."
Schwartz and his wife, Liz, have been documenting the eagle couple for almost six years, he said, including a live webcam of their nest, where viewers have tuned in to see some of the 13 eaglets the pair have spawned.
Dad's body will be sent to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation for a necropsy to determine the cause of death, according to a DEC spokeswoman. The DEC will then notify the Federal Eagle Repository, which may offer the eagle to Native American tribes, the spokeswoman said.
The eagles are regularly in the Schwartzes' backyard, and the couple knew something was wrong because Dad was having trouble perching, was acting lethargic and then disappeared.
“We were looking for him because … the last couple of days he's been acting out of sorts,” Robert Schwartz said. His wife found the eagle Thursday at nearby Spring Pond, "just sitting with his head down, halfway in the water.”
Sent to rehab center
The Schwartzes called Wildlife In Need of Rescue and Rehabilitation, the nonprofit run by Robert Horvath and his wife, Cathy St. Pierre, both New York State-licensed raptor rehabilitators.
Horvath said Thursday he got the call from Schwartz around 1:30 p.m. and headed to Spring Pond, where he put on his waders before stepping into the cold, murky waters.
"I got down to the water's edge and approached him, and before I could get close enough to net him he flew off,” Horvath said. “He flew approximately 50 feet, a foot off the water and landed in the middle of the pond.”
It was a bad spot, but Horvath trudged on until he hit a deep spot and sank into the “muddy muck” as his waders filled up with water.
“I was basically frozen like in quicksand,” he said.
He crawled his way to Dad and netted him, then got stuck in the mud again before they could reach the shore. With an assist from the Centerport Fire Department, he handed off the bird and then got pulled out himself.
Horvath was taken to an emergency room, where he was treated for hypothermia and released. But he said it was Dad who was in bad shape.
“It's in poor condition right now,” Horvath said Thursday. “It's hypothermic as well. It's been in water and birds aren't meant to be submerged in water for an extended period of time.”
It’s unclear whether Dad was sick, injured or both.
“I'm guessing he probably hasn't eaten in three or four days,” Horvath said.
While Horvath headed to the hospital, the Schwartzes wrapped Dad in a towel and drove him to St. Pierre in Miller Place.
“We didn't think he was going to make it,” Schwartz said of the car ride.
Thursday night, Horvath said Dad’s prognosis was “guarded” as they did blood work to look for underlying health problems or disease but there was still hope that he would heal and be released back to his nest. Schwartz said Friday that he learned from St. Pierre that morning that Dad had died while under 24-hour care.
The rescue and transport were documented on the Facebook page, showing Liz Schwartz cradling a swaddled Dad in the car.
“We love these eagles desperately,” Robert Schwartz said.
The couple decided to document the eagles’ lives “just to show everybody … how beautiful these eagles are and what it took to get them to come back to Long Island.”
Hundreds of messages of grief poured out on the Facebook page Friday.
"I am so heartbroken over Dad's passing," one person wrote. "I appreciate everyone's effort to save him."
Another worried about Mom.
"What sad news! My thoughts are with his mate now," the person wrote. "What will happen to her? Don't eagles mate for life?"
Schwartz said Mom may be moving on already.
"We wake up this morning and Mom is in the nest, and a new eagle is there," Schwartz said. Although it's unclear if Mom will mate with the newcomer, he said, "if one of mated pairs dies, they don’t give up, they keep going."