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At Oatland, eagles get a fertility check

Francesca the bald eagle laid two eggs last week at Oatland Island Wildlife Center.

On Thursday, it was time to check them for fertility.

But first they had to be collected.

Animal care technician Susan Inman carried a ladder into the aviary Francesca shares with Arnold, a male bald eagle. As she did, the birds flew off their nesting platform, protesting loudly.

Ignoring them, Inman climbed to the nest. She slipped Francesca’s white eggs, each the size of a tennis ball, into the pockets of her hoodie and left wooden eggs in their place temporarily.

“They’re so warm,” Inman said, cradling an eagle egg in her hands. It had a small crack, probably made by Francesca’s talon as she hurried off the nest.

Francesca and Arnold are wild-born birds that were brought to Oatland because they couldn’t be reintroduced to the wild after rehabbing from injuries. Arnold has been there since 1992, Francesca since 2000.

Francesca has been laying a clutch of eggs every year for about six years, said veterinarian Lesley Mailler. All were infertile, but Mailler and Inman had to check to see if the seventh time was the lucky one.

Back at the office Inman “candled” each egg. She shined a bright flashlight through each egg to examine its air pocket and look for the blood vessels of a developing chick. Neither one showed signs of life.

“They’re pretty dead,” Inman said.

Inman then sealed up the crack in the first egg with a dab of Elmer’s glue to keep it from going rotten back in the nest. The animal caretakers return the eggs to keep Francesca from laying another clutch, a calcium-intense process that could compromise her health.

U.S. Fish & Wildlife officials keep tabs on captive bald eagles and don’t want educational facilities like Oatland breeding them, in part because introducing the offspring to the wild is a complicated, expensive proposition.

Eagles, while still protected by other laws, were removed from the endangered species list in 2007. Georgia’s eagles are thriving, with Chatham County leading the state with 22 active nests in the state’s annual count last year.

Mailler wasn’t surprised Francesca’s eggs were duds again.

“Female eagles hate male eagles except when they breed,” she said. And she’s never seen Francesca and Arnold mating. For one thing, in the wild eagles mate in the sky. They lock talons and mate as they fall. That would be tough in their aviary. But that’s not all.

“I’ve never seen them act remotely interested in each other,” Mailler said.

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