The Southwest Florida Eagle Cam is back, and with it, the chance for love to possibly bloom again.
The webcam became a phenomenon when it was first installed back in 2012, allowing viewers from all over the world to regularly watch the daily activities of bald eagles “Ozzie” and “Harriet” in North Fort Myers.
The eagles quickly became Southwest Florida’s most famous feathered celebrities, as the eagle cam brought in more than 210 million views from 190 different countries. Viewers became addicted to the ornithological reality show, watching with fascination as the eagles built and restored their nest, mated, laid eggs, and challenged both natural elements and predators.
After Ozzie perished in 2015 following a fight with another male eagle in the area, Harriet soon found herself being courted by several possible new mates, and eventually bonded with a new mate, subsequently named M15. (It was quite the scandal at the time, as M15 was believed to be the eagle involved in the fatal fight with Ozzie.)
For eleven years, Harriet mothered clutch after clutch of young eaglets online, laying 22 eggs of which 19 had hatched. Her nest was approximately eight feet in diameter and a short one mile flight away from the Caloosahatchee River, which served as the family’s primary food source for mullet, catfish, red fish and snook.
Sadly, everything changed in February of this year when Harriet did not return to the nest after she was last seen chasing off intruders. The hunt for Harriet began, with local search parties and Facebook groups sending in tips to officials at the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW).
Unfortunately, the iconic Harriet never returned to the nest. While no concrete information was released by officials, many online observers assumed that Harriet was hurt or had died. She was at least 25 years old, and according to the National Wildlife Federation, eagles in the wild live between 20 and 30 years.
In homage to dads everywhere, M15 stepped up to solely care for the nest following Harriet’s disappearance. The two eaglets, E21 and E22, thrived under the care of their single dad. Cameras caught the eaglets as they grew larger each day, escaped the clutches of predators, learned new skills from dad and took their first leaps out of the nest. Later that spring, three female eagles caught fans’ attention, recreating an ornithological version of The Bachelor. One of the female eagles stayed stayed until the tiny family all departed from the nest in early June.
M15 has returned for another year at the North Fort Myers nest, and has been joined by a female eagle already starting to make herself at home. Nicknamed “Lady E,” it is unclear if she is one of the females who hung around the nest after Harriet disappeared.
So has M15 found love again? As of this week, it has been confirmed that the two eagles have mated and are a pair.
Bald eagle nesting season begins October 1 and runs through May 15, according to FWC. (Eagles usually lay one to three eggs beginning around January, and then the parents take turns incubating the eggs which hatch in roughly 35 days.)