Ann McFarlan and Don Wise sat in a car Jan. 29, observing what they believed was a lone eagle's heartbreak.
Their hearts were breaking, as well.
The body of a bald eagle was found Jan. 28 in a construction site along Dublin Road near Grandview Heights.
The construction site is across the roadway from an eagle's nest. The nest's location is notable because its accessibility has allowed for convenient observation by bird-watchers and photographers.
McFarlan and Wise said they believe the deceased eagle was a female and one of the pair of eagles that established the nest nearly three years ago.
The owners of A&D Photography in Westerville are among the community of central Ohio nature enthusiasts who regularly have used their binoculars and cameras to watch the nesting site.
"It's just been so much fun and awe-inspiring to watch these magnificent birds," McFarlan said.
McFarlan and Wise have featured the photographs they've taken of the eagles on their Facebook page, Buckeye Wildlife, which they established to showcase the wildlife that can be found in Ohio.
A construction worker found the deceased eagle with a softball-sized hole under its right wing, McFarlan said.
"We were out (Jan. 25) and saw the two eagles working on building up their nest," McFarlan said.
"What's so sad is that the nest had been blown down by the windstorm (Dec. 29), and over the last few weeks, we watched these magnificent birds as they started all over rebuilding their nest," Wise said. "They had built it back up quite a ways already."
But by nightfall Jan. 25, McFarlan said, only one of the birds could be observed flying near the nest. The other was nowhere in sight.
"We didn't see her all day (Jan. 26)," Wise said.
On Jan. 30, McFarlan said, she and Wise watched and took photographs as the solitary bird seemed to be in mourning.
"He has a favorite tree he likes to perch on, and he's just flying from that to the nest and back again," she said. "It looks like he's searching for his partner, waiting for her to return.
"He just looks so sad," McFarlan said.
Gary Comer, wildlife management supervisor at District 1 at the Ohio Department of Natural Resources' Division of Wildlife, retrieved the body.
Comer said he could not verify whether the eagle was female or one of the two birds that built the nest.
Eagles "don't have external characteristics (indicating gender)," Comer said, except that a female eagle is larger in size than a male.
"Without seeing the other bird to compare its size with the carcass I retrieved, I can't say whether it's a female," he said. "You'd have to do a genital exam, which we aren't equipped to do."
Comer said he has seen photographs of a bird the photographer identified as being the female from the Dublin Road nest, but the picture showed markings on that bird's feathers that did not match the carcass he retrieved.
It could be that the marked feathers fell off, or the bird in the photographs could be a different one, he said.
The bird died from trauma, but Comer said he can't be certain what caused the fatal blow.
"If I had to speculate, I would guess it was the result of a territorial dispute with another bird," he said. "Eagles are very territorial. There was a trauma but no broken wing. That's not consistent with an automobile strike, but this was a pretty substantial injury."
The remaining bird likely was flying to and from the nest to maintain his -- or her -- territory, Comer said.
If the bird had lost a mate, it's likely it won't be long before it finds another, he said.
"Eagles do mate for life and stay together unless one of them dies," Comer said. "It usually doesn't take too long for a bird to find another mate. Often, they will return to the same nesting area.
"With any luck, we'll see eagles at this nesting spot again -- if not this year, then next year," he said.
That would be a welcome sight, McFarlan said.
"What's important about this nest is that this is the most accessible nest anybody will probably ever see," she said.
"You can see this nest traveling west on (Interstate) 670, and there's a parking lot across from it that's raised a bit so that you can get a really good view of it," Wise said. "There are a lot of people who regularly come out to observe these eagles. It's a little community that's formed."
The number of bald eagles' nests in Ohio has grown significantly over the past 40 years, Comer said.
In 1979, only four nesting pairs of eagles were observed in Ohio, all near Lake Erie, he said.
The count rose to 221 in 2017 and totaled about 390 last year, Comer said.
Each nest includes two eagles, so Ohio's total number of eagles is nearly 800, at least, he said.
"There are probably some out there that have not been observed," Comer said.
The recovery of the eagle population in Ohio and across the nation is due partially to the highly protective status Congress has placed on the national bird through the 1940 Bald Eagle Act, which was expanded in 1962 to also include the golden eagle, he said.
"We also have the Migratory Bird Treaty Act with Canada and Mexico, and another big factor is that we no longer allow DDT to be used as a pesticide in the United States," Comer said.
DDT ingested into eagles' reproductive system thinned the egg shells of their offspring, so the eggs would break under the weight of an adult eagle, he said.
"The return of the eagle, our national bird, has been a really happy success story," Comer said.