The anticipation had built for months, with people around the world tuning into the livestream of expectant bald eagle parents Ron and Rita on Zoo Miami's Eagle Cam. Then, around 9 p.m. on New Years Day, the avian pair were joined in their nest by one, tiny, fluffy eaglet. By the following day, there were two.
"All of a sudden, she [Rita] stands up and I see this squirming little alien-looking thing below and I go, "Oh, my gosh!" Magill tells New Times. "I've been I've been at the zoo now for 42 years, and this was seriously one of the most exciting moments of my career."
The eaglets, named R1 and R2, are the latest heartwarming development in the feel-good saga of Ron and Rita (named after Ron Magill and his wife, Rita). In November, hundreds of people told Magill they're "addicted" to Ron & Rita's Eagle Cam livestream, a collaboration between Zoo Miami and Wildlife Rescue of Dade County that's sponsored by the Ron Magill Conservation Endowment.
IT HAS HATCHED!!! BEST NEW YEAR'S GIFT I COULD HAVE HOPED FOR!!! HAPPY NEW YEAR'S INDEED!!! pic.twitter.com/dLJmQD0eQw— Ron Magill (@RonMagill) January 2, 2022
After a storm destroyed the eagles' nest last March, Lloyd Brown and Jemma Peterson of Wildlife Rescue of Dade County installed a more stable nesting site in the same tree, as well as high-definition cameras to observe the eagles. There was a legitimate fear that Ron and Rita wouldn't return to the tree after their nest was destroyed or build their nest on the new, manmade platform. Not only did they make their way back, but, to everyone's surprise, Rita laid three eggs in late November.
"All the doubters said they're not going to come back and build a nest on this thing. And then it was, 'Oh, let's see if they lay eggs,'" Magill exclaims. "They not only laid eggs, they laid three! It was unbelievable!"
To protect the birds, Magill and Brown are not disclosing the nest's location, saying only that it's located in a Miami-Dade neighborhood, which has allowed the eagles to coexist with humans and create a community bond.
Magill likens the neighbors to Ron and Rita's "security guards."
"They're all protecting this nest," Magill says. "If they see someone trying to get next to this nest, trust me, all hell's gonna break loose."
And the third egg? There's a chance it could hatch any day now. Brown, who set up the artificial nest and installed the cameras, is the only person with access to the overhead camera. From his unique, bird's-eye view of the nest, he reports that the third egg has been "pipping" since yesterday — meaning the eaglet has begun cracking the shell.
"The others who are watching it on YouTube say, 'Oh, it's not hatching,'" Brown says. "Well, it's just in a position where you can't see it. So people are freaking out. They're losing their minds."
Magill emphasizes that even for the two seemingly healthy hatchlings, a lot can go wrong.
Right now, the two eaglets are in a sibling-rivalry stage and fighting for survival. There's a chance things can get ugly — over the past few days, while watching the birds shake each other down, Magill recalls several times when he feared one had been killed by the other.
He says he's nervous about R2's prospects, because it's slightly weaker than R1.
"We want people to understand that nature is not Disney. It's not 'happily ever after,'" Magill cautions. "We're hoping that by providing this very intimate window into the world of these majestic birds that people learn about them, and they learn to love them, they learn to want to protect them."