When word got out that the Fox Valley’s favorite celebrity couple could be on the move, fans began to fret.
No, not Donnie Wahlberg and Jenny McCarthy.
The Mooseheart eagles, as they’re colloquially known, have long drawn crowds of photographers, bird watchers and other folks to Mooseheart Child City and School near Batavia. The eagles’ nest was in a stadium parking lot on the campus for years.
But when the dead, rotting tree that housed their roughly 2,000-pound nest needed to be taken down for fear it would collapse, fans of the feathered pair worried they’d never see them again.
Fear not. The eagles have landed in the same neighborhood.
Photographer Dave Soderstrom of St. Charles, who has documented the eagles on Facebook for about nine years, said the birds drew crowds because of how close the nest was to the street and how frequently you could see them in action.
“It was truly amazing. There are few nests like that where you can access them so easily,” Soderstrom said. “And the thing that was nice was that they were used to people being around. So they just went about their business.”
Soderstrom said that after chronicling them for so long, he knew it wouldn’t last at that location.
“We expected (the tree) to fall over in a storm for the last couple of years, honestly,” he said. “It had been dead for five or six years, and it was rotting and getting worse and worse.”
Plus, the nest was getting bigger. Bald eagles typically add up to 200 pounds to the structure of their nests every year.
Gary Urwiler, the executive director of Mooseheart Child City and School, said the decision to take the tree down wasn’t made in haste.
“There were a lot of emotions and opinions about it,” Urwiler said. “We worked hard, and we made a sound choice.”
Urwiler said Mooseheart worked with Anderson Humane and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to plan for the removal of the dead tree and the nest it contained.
“It’s in the best interest of the eagle pair to take the tree down in the non-breeding season,” Cathy Pollack of the USFWS Chicago Ecological Services Office said in a news release. “The worst case scenario would be the tree coming down with the eagles or their eaglets in the nest.”
The tree was taken down on Oct. 26. About a week later, the eagles started building a new nest in a pine tree about 100 yards northwest.
“We are very ecstatic they continue to keep Mooseheart as their home,” Urwiler said.
Soderstrom, who has seen 18 baby eagles fledged over the years, said the nest is “only” about 6 feet wide and a foot or so deep.
“They’ll keep adding to it until they lay eggs,” he said. “It won’t be as big as the other one. But it will serve its purpose, and they’ll get it how they want it. This will be the third nest the mom has built. So she knows what she’s doing.”
The female has called the 1,000-acre Mooseheart campus home for at least a dozen years. Her first nest on the west side of the property near Randall Road blew down in a storm in 2011. She and her mate relocated to the tree in the parking lot and lived there together until he was killed in a car accident in 2019.
She found love and met a new, younger mate a few months later, and now they’re settling into their new (love) nest.
Soderstrom said that, since his retirement, you can find him photographing the eagles nearly every day. As a member of the Moose Lodge in St. Charles, he has access to the campus.
“I go down there most days early to try and catch them building up the nest, and then I’ll stop by before sunset because those are the times they tend to be around doing stuff,” he said.
An avid wildlife photographer, Soderstrom said eagles have always been his favorite subject.
“First of all, they’re the symbol of our country, and they’re a beautiful majestic bird,” he said. “There’s just something about seeing them fly. I know it sounds dumb to some people, and I’ve seen them thousands of times. But every time I see an eagle fly, it’s a thrill.”