Drama in the nest: Here’s a timeline of the recent excitement at the Codorus State Park eagle nest

An image of Liberty and Freedom, the original residents of the nest covered by the state Game Commission's Eagle Cam at Codorus State Park, are shown in an image taken earlier this year.

HANOVER — There’s drama in the nest.

If you haven’t been paying attention to the Codorus State Park Eagle Cam lately, you’ve been missing out.

According to an account that birdwatcher Karen Lippy provided to the York Dispatch, there have been plot twists, surprise returning characters, aerial battles — it’s like a daytime soap opera, set in a tree.

Let’s review this season’s timeline:

  • On Saturday, March 10, the nest’s longtime female resident, whom watchers had dubbed Liberty, was attacked and driven from the next by a larger, younger female interloper. Liberty and her male counterpart, dubbed Freedom, had paired up in the nest for about six years. The invader was nicknamed Lucy.
  • Liberty had laid two eggs in the nest in February. The new female was spotted eating one of the eggs. Liberty was nowhere to be seen.
  • On Saturday, March 17, the two cameras trained on the nest (set up by the Pennsylvania Game Commission, with assists from HDonTap, Comcast, and Codorus State Park) went down for two days.
  • When the cameras regained power on March 19, Libby told the Dispatch, Liberty was still missing. The new female and the nest’s male resident, dubbed Freedom by nest-watchers, appeared to be living in the nest.
  • On March 31, Lippy told the Dispatch, two eagles were spotted having a “terrible” fight that lasted more than two hours. But because there were up to five eagles in the area at the time, she said, it was difficult to determine who was who.
  • Over the next few days, nest watchers began reporting that Liberty had returned to the nest. Lippy told the Dispatch she initially doubted those claims, thinking that the nest’s original resident had been killed by Lucy.
  • Lippy told the Dispatch that on April 5, she went to an area near the nest to photograph two eagles perched on a branch. She thought she was photographing Lucy and Freedom. But when she compared the images to those she had taken earlier, she noticed that the female bird next to Freedom was much smaller than Lucy — who she described to the Dispatch as the largest eagle she had seen in 35 years of birdwatching.
  • After extensively reviewing images of the birds she had taken from the ground and closely observing the Eagle Cam in the nest, Lippy told the Dispatch, she eventually concluded that it was true — Liberty is back.
  • This might not be the end of the story, Lippy told the Dispatch. Lucy could come back for another scrap, or another eagle could try to take over the nest.

The Game Commission is taking a more neutral view of the whole saga. In a statement published March 27 on its Eagle Cam site, the commission wrote:

None of the adults that have been to the nest are banded or otherwise marked. It is speculative for us to attempt to tell them apart. Females are generally larger, though a large male and small female could appear similar in size. Also, the wide camera angle tends to make the bird closer to the camera appear larger. It is possible that an adult other than one of the pair that started this season at the nest is attempting to take over this territory. This is known as “intraspecific intrusion”.

There are a large number of bald eagle “floaters” in the state. These are adult birds that are not associated with a nesting territory. The number of floaters is growing as bald eagle nests successfully produce young each year. Some of these floaters intrude on active nests. Most intrusion events are quite brief and do not result in nest failure or abandonment, but could if the intrusion is persistent. This kind of event could be occurring at several nests throughout the commonwealth. As the bald eagle population grows in Pennsylvania, Game Commission biologists expect that we will continue to see eagles fight over territories; it is a testament to the Game Commission’s eagle recovery efforts.