Internet Roots for Bald Eagles Ron and Rita on ZooMiami Eagle Cam

Mayor Daniella Levine Cava could have helped the Miami-Dade County Commission kill two “birds” – the bat and the tricolor – with its decision not to veto the governing body’s 10-2 vote to approve a developer’s proposal for 550 new homes on the former Calusa Golf Course in West Kendall, but nature lovers in Miami have a new feathered flock to focus on in southern Florida: Ron and Rita, a pair of white-headed eagles that produced two eggs in a man-made nest while they were broadcast live on ZooMiami’s Eagle Cam.

Most of the credit, of course, goes to Rita, who laid her first egg on Thanksgiving Eve and her second Saturday – just five hours later Cava tried to explain why she left the commission’s zoning vote despite more than 5,000 emails from area residents.

ZooMiami spokesman and outspoken nature conservationist Ron Magill – who took time off work to attend the zoning hearing on November 17 and famously told commissioners: “You can not buy wildlife once it is dead” – says New Times he is “disappointed with the mayor’s decision not to veto” and that he “will continue to fight with every fiber of [his] be against what [he] considering indelible blemishes on future generations. ”

But Magill has not had time to sulk. Over the past few days, he says, hundreds of people have told him they are “addicted” to the Ron & Rita Eagle Cam livestream, a collaboration between ZooMiami and Wildlife Rescue of Dade County sponsored by Ron Magill Conservation Endowment. Magill says he got “goosebumps” when Rita laid her first egg, and he is “excited that Rita is sitting on two eggs right now and that everything is going well.”

After a year of roller coaster rides with local, national and bird news, the promise of Ron and Rita’s hatched cubs is the feel-good bird story that society needs. During the holiday weekend, thousands of viewers filled YouTube live chat with messages of redemption and support. Now everyone is on “pip watch” – the first crack in the egg when a new young begins to hatch.

“The creation of life is a beautiful thing,” one commenter wrote after Rita laid her second egg.

“Good job, mother Rita !!!!” dared another.

Wrote a third: “Ron how dare you miss the birth of your secondborn.”

A YouTube user who goes after Niteprowl offered a kind of internet blessing: “May these eggs be blessed with good health and a long life … My greatest pleasure in life is watching eagles lay eggs.”

“These eagles have definitely created a huge amount of interest and excitement!” says Magill. “This may be one of the best feel-good stories of the year. As it looks now, if the two eggs are fertile and prevent any predation or other natural disaster, they are expected to hatch sometime between Christmas and New Year’s Day.”

As the world moved within in March 2020, people began to be more interested in the outside. national geography reported last year that the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s eBird and NestWatch citizen science sites saw a significant increase during the pandemic. Aquariums in Georgia, California and Maryland all reported increased traffic on their webcams last year. Earlier this year, a pair of red-tailed hawks caught the attention of the Syracuse University community when an alum donated a webcam for live streaming of the couple as their three eggs hatched.

Perhaps no other animal couple has achieved as much reality TV star status as Jackie and Shadow, a pair of bald eagles with their own 24/7 webcam in Big Bear National Park, California. Earlier this year, hundreds of thousands of people from around the world lined up to watch the pair care for five eggs that never turned into chicks – two were eaten by ravens, a third was lost during the laying process, the fourth began to hatch, but then stopped move, and the fifth did not hatch at all. The previous year, Jackie laid two eggs, but none of them hatched. In 2019, the couple’s eagle, named Cookie, died of apparent hypothermia.

Despite the tragedies, the Internet could not look away, enchanted by the eagle saga, noting the sound Jackie made when she saw that ravens had killed her offspring and how adorable Shadow can be.

“Need some positive thoughts for the Big Bear nest after so much heartache in those nests the last few years,” a user commented on the ZooMiami live chat Saturday night.

“I’ve seen some sad things over the years, but learned so much myself through tears,” wrote another.

They are the country’s national emblem, but bald eagles were at one point on the verge of extinction and spent more than 40 years on the federal list of endangered species. In 2007, they were removed from the list thanks to federal laws that are still in place today that protect the animals, their feathers, eggs, nests and nest trees.

Although zoos can help endangered and endangered species through breeding programs in captivity, it is considered the possibility of shattering glass in emergencies. Reintroducing captive animals back into the wild is not always successful, and for a species to survive in captivity, it is not necessarily a victory in the world of conservation.

That’s why Ron Magill took time off work to speak out against the 550 plan at the former Calusa golf course: to protect the natural habitat of the state-threatened bats and tricolor herons before it gets there.

Red Calusa leader Amanda Prieto tells New Times it while the residents are disappointed that Cava did not veto the zone vote, they are assured that Cava will work closely with the county’s Department of Environmental Resource Management to protect all endangered and endangered species. Residents strongly feel that the studies will confirm that the former Calusa golf course is actually home to state-endangered bird species and that environmental protection will prevent specific trees from being felled and may even scale down the proposed development plans altogether.

Prieto estimates that the birds’ habitat should be safe until August 2022, while the studies take place.

“The track that Miami-Dade County is on in terms of development is catastrophic,” Magill says.

Year after year, eagles Ron and Rita return to the same (undisclosed) nesting site in South Florida. But in March, a storm destroyed their nest. One of their eagles fell and had to undergo surgery for a broken wing. After the eagle was rehabilitated and released into the wild, Lloyd Brown and Jemma Peterson of Wildlife Rescue in Dade County worked to ensure a more stable nesting site in the same tree and installed high-resolution cameras to observe the pair.

There was no guarantee that they would return to the tree after its nest had been destroyed, or that they would build their nest on the man-made platform. There was sincere concern that the new cameras would scare them.

But Ron and Rita came back, and after a bit of hesitation, they settled down on the platform and brought branches and leaves to complete their nest.

Although everything seems to be going according to plan, Magill warns that the eagles are not out of the woods yet (as it were). The US Forest Service estimates that bald eagles average between 50 and 60 percent, and if the eggs hatch, the eagle’s survival rate during the first year is around 50 percent.

“Nature does not always write happy stories,” says Magill. “There are still so many things that can go wrong.”

Eagles mate for life. This particular couple happens to bear the first names on their six foot, six inch benefactor and his wife, Rita.

Magill says the names were chosen by Wildlife Rescue volunteers and that he is touched by the gesture.

“It really is one of the most wonderful honors I have ever received,” said the career defender. “And if Rita is half as good a spouse and mother as my wife, then it’s going well!”

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