This Bald eagle nest was first built in the late fall of 2004, but did not successfully fledge any eaglets until the spring of 2006. A lot has happened with this nest since that time. The original female lost her mate for the 2012/2013 nesting season. More recently, the female has taken on a new mate. In total, this female Bald eagle has successfully fledged 14 eaglets! This is not the first time she has done this, as she did the same in 2009 and 2010. Only 5% of Bald eagles successfully lay and fledge three eaglets. Eagles are asynchronous layers, meaning they lay their eggs a few days apart and start incubating them immediately. This leads to the first egg developing earlier than the rest and they hatch out days apart. The reason for this is to give the first eaglet the best chance of survival and ensuring the passing on of the genes. Since eagles become full grown in only 12 weeks, those few days of separation makes a huge difference in size and development of the eaglets. What to look for as you watch:
- Watch the eagles as they move around the nest. When they are maneuvering around the eaglets, they will ball up their feet so that they don’t damage them with their talons.
- Notice that both the male and the female will tend to the eaglets: feeding and sitting on them to keep them warm when needed.
- Since they were hatched days apart, notice the difference in size of these eaglets, especially the third one hatched. Also watch over time how the size difference lessens as they reach full size.
- Notice how carefully the parents feed the eaglets. They rip off pieces of fish or waterfowl and turn their head to the side to allow the eaglets to grab it. It is difficult to see, but you may occasionally see a liquid substance on the adults’ beaks during feeding. This is a digestive enzyme that they secrete from their nares (equivalent to our nostrils). This starts the breakdown process to aid the eaglets in digestion.
- It is normal for the eaglets to “fight” or “squabble” over food and position in the nest. They don’t know whether or not there is enough food for them all, so they have to do whatever it takes to get the amount they need to survive. In a few weeks you will see the adults just drop off food in the nest as the eaglets learn how to eat on their own.
- Learning to fly is quite the process so watch them start wing flapping around 6-8 weeks old. They will just sit on the nest and flap and flap, not moving at all. Over time they will reach what we call the helicopter stage: their feet start to barely lift off the nest, wobble in the air for a few moments, and then touch back down.
- Branching is the stage right before they fledge. They will start to venture out to the branches around the nest and jump around making small jumps (flights) between the close branches and slowly increase it until they get up the strength, abilities, and courage to make their first long flights!
BALD EAGLE FACTS
- Although Bald Eagles have been removed from the Endangered Species List, bald eagles are still protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.
- Are native only to North America!
- In the wild Bald Eagles live 20-25 years. In captivity they can live up to 40-50 years.
- Their diet consists of fish (80-90%), coots, small mammals and injured waterfowl.
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