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Six weeks after female eagle is slain in Seward County, male and chick die, too

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The first tragedy struck the nest near Garland in April, when someone shot and killed a female bald eagle.

Neighbors and strangers rallied, raising thousands for a reward. Game and Parks officers, Concordia students and Raptor Conservation Alliance members made regular trips to monitor the nest -- and the male eagle left to raise its chick alone.

Dead eagles

The male eagle's tell-tale leg bands are visible in this photo. It was found dead on Memorial Day.

“We were cheering hard for that father,” state conservation officer Dina Barta said. “He was doing such a good job taking care of that baby.”

Then Barta got a call on Memorial Day. A farmer checking his cows near the nest had found a dead adult eagle. When he sent her photos, she saw the metal bands on his legs and knew it was likely the single father.

Barta and others gathered that day beneath the nest, about 60 feet up in a roadside cottonwood. They didn’t see any signs of the chick, but the nest is deep -- 5 or 6 feet -- so they couldn’t be sure.

A crew from Norris Public Power brought a bucket truck from Seward and braved 35 mph winds to try to get a closer look, and to help, but fell a few feet too short.

“We gave him gloves and told him how to grab the bird, and they were really excited. But they had it extended as far as it could go, and could only get to the bottom of the nest.”

With volunteers searching for the baby bird on the ground, a Seward County sheriff’s captain brought the department’s drone.

Its camera showed the chick motionless in the nest, and its thermal imaging detected no heat.

Barta estimated the male eagle had been dead for 24 to 48 hours before the farmer found it. She examined it at UNL’s Veterinary Diagnostic Center and found no sign it had been shot or suffered from bird flu.

She believes it came in contact with the power line it was found beneath, though that’s hard to prove with a necropsy.

“Our best guess is he was electrocuted. He had feathers blown off the top of his head, and the top of his head was black.”

Dead eagles

The pair of eagles were fixtures near Garland.

It’s also unclear how the chick died, but it could have gone too long without food, she said.

The nest had been a local landmark, its resident eagles raising chicks year after year, fishing in a nearby farm pond and building a fan club. On Memorial Day, a man and his grandson stopped and told Barta they made daily trips to watch the eagles. Another told her the pair got him through the COVID-19 pandemic.

But in a span of six weeks, they were all gone.

“There were a lot of heartbroken people,” Barta said. “There's a lot of people that really enjoyed watching these birds, and the whole family perished because somebody shot the female.”

Reach the writer at 402-473-7254 or psalter@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSPeterSalter

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