BIG BEAR LAKE, Calif. (KTVU) - Forestry officials in Southern California are mourning the loss of a bald eagle chick, one of two baby eagles that were being closely watched since hatching last month.
On Monday, the San Bernardino National Forest announced the news on social media. "It is with great sadness to announce that one of the bald eagle chicks in the Big Bear nest passed away this morning around 8 am," officials said on Twitter.
Officials added that while they don't know the exact cause of death, hypothermia is suspected, as temperatures dipped down to the mid 20's last night, brought on by a late season storm.
"The chicks at this age are too big to be both fully covered during brooding, and since their juvenile contour and flight feathers are not fully grown yet, it is hard for them to retain body heat if the downing feathers get wet," forestry officials explained.
Even the mother eagle had a tough time with the cold temperatures. "Rain followed by snow is never a good combination, as it begins to ice the body," they said. "The mother was observed this morning having a hard time shaking it off," officials wrote in a tweet.
Her first chick hatched on April 14 and his brother closely followed the next day as nature lovers watched the process on an online live feed.
Earlier this month, the chicks were named by Southern California school children who decided Simba and Cookie were fitting for the fuzzy gray chicks.
The camera installed by the group Friends of Big Bear Valley has been fixed on the birds' nest.
On its website Monday morning, the group wrote, "We are very sad to say that it looks like Cookie died just a little bit ago. He was up earlier but looked weak; he also seemed less energetic yesterday. This last storm was a tough one with rain first and then snow and cold temperatures... The chicks weren't able to fit fully underneath her yesterday and last night."
The group explained that when a chick dies it typically gets moved off to the side or buried under new nesting material, adding that experts aren't expected go up the tree where the nest is located and retrieve the body.
Just last Friday, the San Bernardino National Forest provided an upbeat update on the chicks' progress.
"They grow so fast," officials wrote. "The two Big Bear bald eagle chicks that hatched mid-April are no longer tiny fluff balls! And they'll be adult-sized next month."
They added that experts had banded the birds and conducted a check, which showed the birds were healthy.
They grow so fast. The two Big Bear bald eagle chicks that hatched mid-April are no longer tiny fluff balls! And they’ll be adult-sized next month.— San Bernardino National Forest (@SanBernardinoNF) May 24, 2019
Today, we had them checked on (good news, they’re healthy) and banded. We also now know both are males. Here’s a close-up look. pic.twitter.com/Sl3jGVGx67
While disappointing, the young bird's inability to survive is not unexpected, according to forestry officials.
"The bald eagle mortality rate during the first year of life is 50% +," they wrote on Monday. "Once they learn to successfully hunt/forage, chances of reaching adulthood (5 yrs) is good. We hope to see the remaining chick fledge and learn to do just that soon!"
Nonetheless, the news was difficult for those who had gotten to know the young eagles and were rooting for them to thrive.
"We are mourning with all the rest of you," Friends of Big Bear Valley said. "Nature can be very tough."