Biologists believe a bald eagle that was a star of a popular Virginia eagle-watching webcam was killed Tuesday morning, struck by an airplane that was landing at Norfolk International Airport.
A U.S. Airways jet’s landing gear struck and killed a bald eagle as the plane was trying to land, airport official Robert Bowen said. One of the plane's fairings was damaged, but none of the 21 people aboard was hurt.
The eagle, biologists believe, was part of a nesting pair that has been at the nearby Norfolk Botanical Garden since 2003, and was the mother of three chicks that are featured on the garden’s Eagle Cam.
"We are fairly certain that this is the Norfolk Botanical Garden female eagle due to her physical characteristics, size and the fact that she has not been seen at the nest since the strike," said Stephen Living, biologist with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, and Reese Lukei of the Center for Conservation Biology, said in a written statement Tuesday.
Thousands of bird strikes are reported to the Federal Aviation Administration annually, and even strikes involving the formerly endangered bald eagle aren't unheard of. A different eagle was struck at the Norfolk airport two weeks ago, Bowen said. And 136 bald eagles were reported struck at U.S. airports from 1990 though March 2011, though that might be an undercount because the reports are voluntary and because it's not always clear what kind of bird was struck, according to the FAA Wildlife Strike Database.
Bald eagles are falling from the sky dead of starvation, wildlife experts in western Canada say.
Eagles that depend on late fall salmon runs to provide enough fat to get them through the winter are starving on account of poor runs last year, Maj Birch, manager of a bird rescue facility, told the Victoria Times Colonist.
The Mountainaire Avian Rescue Society shelter in British Columbia has treated about 20 birds this year, Birch said.
"This is the most we have ever had," Birch told the Times Colonist. "Many of them are downed before they are brought in. They are on the ground and they're too weak to fly away.
"Some of them are actually falling out of the sky. One of them slid off a roof yesterday."
Thousands of hungry eagles are flocking around landfills, competing with seagulls and often being poisoned by the scraps and rats they find there, biologists told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.
A herring run due to occur in early March should provide relief for birds that can hold out that long, Birch told the Campbell River Mirror.
"Then everybody will have a feast," she told the paper.