Birds | March 8, 2023 4:09 AM | hangbony
As a blizzard rolled in to Southern California’s Big Bear Valley late last month, Jackie the bald eagle was doing what any caring mother would: protecting her children at all costs.
Jackie sat atop her two eggs for hours at a time, keeping watch so long that the falling snow blanketed everything but the faintest outline of her beak and tail. The attentive mama would doze off, get up to shake off the snow, check on the eggs, and then nestle back down on them. (Her record is 27 hours.)
As Jackie faithfully cared for the eggs, her global fan base watched closely via a crystal-clear webcam that has been documenting her daily life since 2016.
The camera has captured the highs and lows of life as an American bald eagle. In more than 10 years in Big Bear Valley, Jackie has lost about a dozen eggs and eaglets, raised three hatchlings, fallen for two mates, braved blizzards, and fought off countless enemies.
Most recently, Jackie has been struggling with her latest heartbreak.
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Jackie became the first eaglet hatched in Big Bear Valley in 2012, according to Friends of Big Bear Valley, a preservation group that operates Jackie’s webcam and meticulously documents her life and that of her trusty mate, Shadow.
Jackie’s parents, Ricky and Lucy, became the first known adult eagles to decide to stay in Big Bear Valley, which until then had only been a part-time winter destination for the species.
Big Bear resident Sandy Steers lives half a mile from where Jackie was born and has watched her grow up from a distance.
“You could see her practicing flying, and you could see them (Lucy and Ricky) bringing her food,” Steers said. “I stood there for hours every day just watching because I was fascinated. That got me hooked, and then I just wanted to see more.”
That’s when Steers and a U.S. Forest Service employee got the idea to put up a webcam. It took two years to raise the $10,000 needed to buy and install the solar-powered camera, which sits 120 feet off the forest floor.
In Minnesota, a bald eagle was buried up to her head in snow, protecting her eggs, last week.
Jackie lived in relative eagle-eagle obscurity before the webcam was installed. Now, her YouTube page and a daily live chat require multiple moderators, who hail from Florida, Nebraska, Arizona, and the Netherlands, reflecting Jackie’s global fan base.
Jackie’s popularity has also been bolstered by a Facebook page that has more than half a million followers who enjoy video highlights and regular, detailed updates.
In 2017, the camera captured Jackie’s first romance. As thousands watched, she mated with an eagle named Mr. B, and the couple’s eggs hatched in 2018.
One of the eaglets died after a 24-hour rainstorm, but the other, named Stormy, survived and left Big Bear that summer.
Soon after, a new male came to town, chased off Mr. B, and stole Jackie’s heart.
The interloper, Shadow, and Jackie have been together ever since, producing at least 11 eggs. Only two have survived: Simba and Spirit.
Bynette Mote, a Big Bear city councilwoman who has lived in the town for six years, said the eagles’ ever-growing popularity has been astounding to watch.
“It’s just amazing that two birds can connect the whole world,” she said. “It’s so cool that a very small town in Southern California can attract so much attention because of our two famous eagles.”
She said the eagle cam is like a “mini soap opera.”
“A lot of locals feel like aunts and uncles,” she said. “We all cry when they don’t have eggs, and we celebrate when they do.”
Jackie and Shadow’s popularity isn’t always a good thing, though. From time to time, she said people cross barricades meant to protect the birds so they can get a closer look.
“You’ll hear people below on the camera saying, ‘Let’s try to find them,’” she said. “You know, you go to Hollywood and you take the tour bus that goes to celebrities’ houses. It’s kind of the same mentality. It’s a shame.”
Anyone who watches the eagle cam for even a few hours will quickly begin to observe the birds’ many quirks.
Personality-wise, Jackie is definitely the boss.
“She’s very determined, very serious, and she expects to get her way,” said Steers, who is also the executive director of Friends of Big Bear Valley.
Jackie is also bigger than Shadow and the main defender of the nest, which has to be guarded from ravens and other predators that would eat the couple’s eggs.
Though Shadow has to weather Jackie’s moods, he’s her perfect match. Unlike Mr. B.
“She bossed Mr. B around like crazy, and he was kind of wimpy,” Steers said. “But Shadow kind of stands up to her sometimes, and she seems to like that better.”
Since mid-January, Jackie and Shadow’s followers have been excited for their two new eggs, tuning in to watch them dote over the future eaglets.
A Facebook post last week broke the bad news about the eggs, now many days overdue.
“It appears now that Jackie and Shadow’s eggs are not going to hatch,” last week’s post said. “We cannot know exactly why — they could have not been fertilized or could have stopped developing somewhere along the process. We will simply trust that nature knows best what it is doing and why.”
One fan wrote that she was “heartbroken for these two loving and dedicated eagle parents.”
“I love these two, and my heart just breaks for them,” another user wrote. “All the hard work laying on the nest through all this bad weather and never giving up Bless them.”
As of Saturday, Jackie and Shadow were still dutifully caring for the eggs, though they’ve started leaving them unattended for hours at times.
Based on their previous behavior with eggs that never hatched, Jackie and Shadow may continue to care for the eggs for several weeks before giving up, Steers said.
Although it’s a big blow both to the eagle parents and their followers, there’s still hope for eaglets this year, Steers said.
The couple have mated recently and still have time to lay more eggs, a possibility that will be closely monitored by their followers.
“Thankfully, Jackie and Shadow still have many years of being able to hatch eggs!” one fan wrote on Facebook. “I look forward to continuing to watch them.”
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