Florida bald eagles Harriet and M15 rebuild nest after Hurricane Ian

Animal instinct told Harriet and M15 they had to go. The bald eagles, a female and male respectively, left their slash pine tree in Fort Myers, Fla. — their home during annual mating season — seeking shelter a day before Hurricane Ian struck.

It’s not clear where the pair headed to weather the storm. Days later, just as they did during the aftermath of Hurricane Irma in 2017, the eagles returned to the tree looking for their nest 60 feet above ground.

But it was “completely gone,” said Ginnie Pritchett McSpadden, co-founder of the Southwest Florida Eagle Cam, a series of live cameras set up in 2012 so that millions of bird lovers can watch the pair 24/7. “Not a single stick was left,” she told The Washington Post. (The family is working to reset the live stream after the cameras went off when they lost power during Ian.)

So, Harriet and M15 got to work. Day after day, the pair has spent their time scouting for sticks, twigs, moss and other materials, and bringing them back to their tree to rebuild a nest for their future babies.

“It’s just given many people hope and strength to see that while humans continue to build and strengthen, the eagles are doing the same,” McSpadden, 38, said. “If they are taking next steps, then we can, too.”

In 2012, McSpadden and her family set up the cameras for Harriet and Ozzie, the original adult bald eagle pair that had been coming to this nest on their property since 2006. Ozzie, a male, died in 2015. Shortly after, Harriet and M15 bonded. This year marks their seventh season as a mated pair at their property, McSpadden said.

Harriet usually has laid her eggs by Thanksgiving, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the pair is racing against the clock. If it takes them more time to rebuild the nest, Harriet could always lay her eggs later, as mating and nesting season goes from October through May, Breanna Frankel, rehabilitation manager and admissions specialist with the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife, told The Post.

Sometimes a female will lay her eggs but they won’t hatch or the baby bald eagles won’t survive. In those cases, it is still possible for the female to lay another set of eggs, said Frankel, who is familiar with Harriet and M15, and was part of Ozzie’s care team when she joined the clinic in 2015.

This is not the first time a natural disaster has forced the two birds to rebuild. In 2017, the pair’s nest was partially wiped out during Hurricane Irma. It’s also common for bald eagles to upgrade their nests with more sticks every year.

“It seems unusual,” Frankel said. “But at the same time, it happens across the world more than you would assume.” Sometimes bald eagles’ nests — which can weigh hundreds of pounds and span several feet — get so heavy that they fall apart or cause the tree to collapse. “They are massive.”

For now, Harriet will continue examining the twigs and branches M15 brings for approval. The nest must be how she deems fit, a choice the female gets to make, Frankel explained.

“They have evolved with our environment, and they have evolved to survive,” Frankel said. “Regardless, they will be resilient to whatever happens.”

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