Eagles: from hatch to fledge

I think we all would agree that there is nothing more stunning than an eagle in flight.  Their wing span alone can be a give away as to their identity. But also that beautiful white head of the adult eagles.
For the past two months, I’ve been watching a pair of bald eagles as they raise their clutch of three eaglets. I began watching shortly before the third hatched and have been hooked ever since.
Eagles mate for life. The male eagle builds a nest that takes him up to three months to complete. If he doesn’t have a mate, he will try and attract one by impressing her with his nest. If she likes what she sees, the pair will begin a life long journey together of raising young eagles. The nest I’ve been watching online is in Decorah Iowa. It weighs over 1000 pounds and is 6 foot across. The tree was chosen right next to a fish hatchery. Very handy when feeding growing young eaglets.The dynamics and love displayed by the adult eagles is not only interesting, it is a good lesson for all human families.

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This photo was taken when then eaglets were just two weeks old.  It’s a glimpse into the lives of young eaglets we rarely get to see. But here they are patiently waiting for their breakfast. I wondered as I watched them grow how a mom and dad with talons that can grip hundreds of pounds of pressure, and beaks that can do about the same could show love, and affection toward their young. But love and dedication shown these eaglets is obvious every day. Moment by moment mom and dad attend to the feeding of themselves, after they’ve fed the eaglets. An adult eagle will eat up to a pound of fish (food of choice) a day. So it’s hard to imagine how they pull it off. When they were this age, the mama eagle spent most of her time sitting on them. One: to keep them warm and two: so that predators couldn’t haul them away.  The only real predator an eagle has is man. But early on in the dead of night, owls were lurking around the nest hoping to get a tiny gray meal.  Of course any owl dumb enough to try and mess with an adult eagle knows better.  But I watched one night as mom and dad both sat at attention protecting their young for over an hour.

4_18_e   During the warm daytime, mom (shown here) would allow the babies to peak out. Dad was typically on a branch near-by, helping to watch out for any danger. Mom was on high alert too. And like most moms, was weary from lack of sleep. The video feed from the nest is posted 24/7. And one night I tuned in to see mom literally “beak first” into the nest. She has no other mission but to care for her young. She hunted a bit at this stage, but mostly dad was the hunter. He would fly into the nest with a meal and make sure each eaglet had a crop full before eating his own meal. He also continued to work on the nest. Sticks, twine, and various odds and ends were/are constantly being brought to the nest. If mom would move a stick – eventually dad would move it to where he wanted it. This family was a well oiled, working loving unit.  As I watched I thought often of the dysfunction that goes on in our human families. But not so (in most cases) in nature. Granted they don’t have their young in the nest for 18 years. But they do always show love and caring for their young. They instinctively know when it’s OK to let the wobbly eaglets roam the nest and they know when it’s time to get them back under mom. There is much to learn and not a lot of time to learn it!

The eaglets have grown and their appearance has changed this much in just a month. They are now mostly black and losing their down feathers. They are about three times the size (in my estimation) than they were when they hatched. This is a photo from about a month ago. The eaglets are now referred to as “juvies” as they continue to grow and learn. Two of the three are catching on to the tearing of their food, but I watched in amazement as one ate an entire fish in two gulps! He was so hungry that he couldn’t wait for dad to tear the pieces for him and he was going to make sure his brothers didn’t get his prize.

The dynamics and love displayed by the adult eagles is not only interesting, it is a good lesson for all human families.

It’s not possible at this age to tell the sex of the juvies. No one will know for sure until they fly into the wild and either build nests, or look for partners. These young eagles will fledge around the 4th of July. There is still much growing and learning to be done.  Right now they’re discovering their wings. And this has been one of my favorite parts to watch. The huge 6 foot nest isn’t so big anymore. Each day they take turns spreading their wings and bouncing up and down. This is the beginning stage of learning to fly. It’s also quite entertaining to watch them jump around the nest, flap their wings, and sometimes even catching a little air.

Watching this eagle family has been an exciting experience for my friends and me. Warning: it’s addicting. The site has a chat room as well as a FAQ section where you can learn about the history of these two eagles and their young. There is also a PBS documentary that is really interesting and is mostly about the adult eagles I’ve been watching.

It’s really “must see TV” to watch and experience the love and affection this family has for each other. Check it out.

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The photos in this piece aren’t the best as I captured them on a small screen on my computer. Thank you to Bob Anderson for the camera work, the love and dedication, and teaching us so much.

Here is the link so you can experience this for yourself:   http://www.ustream.tv/decoraheagles

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