What a winter storm!

What do you do if you are a Bald Eagle and you arrive at the nest to see your mate who is incubating three eggs buried by snow? Well, that is precisely what happened at Duke Farms in Hillsborough, New Jersey yesterday during that terrible nor’easter that hit the region.

At times, during the big storm, you could see the female’s head but there were other times when she was entirely buried or so it seemed. The snow was so heavily and blowing so fiercely.

I wonder if the warmth of her head kept the space open from the snow or if the female eagle tossed her head and opened up a breathing spot?

Mom is buried under the snow incubating eggs. Image courtesy of Duke Farms Eagle Cam.

By the time the male arrives the female has been entirely covered. He was calling to her and she raised her neck. Then the male began to use the beak that he normally feeds his babies with and catches prey to dig his mate out.

Dad chipping away at the snow. Image courtesy of Duke Farms Eagle Cam.

It wasn’t long before he had cleared enough snow that the female could stand up! You can see on the right side just how much snow had accumulated on the female and her three eggs. Speaking of three eggs, Bald Eagles normally only lay 2 eggs. When food is plentiful and the female is in good health, there might be three eggs. Many times, only two hatch.

Dad helping to free Mom. Image courtesy of Duke Farms Eagle Cam.

Oh, it was magnificent. The female eagle sort of jumped backwards out of the nest and began flapping her wings wildly to get rid of the snow. I did think that she was going to push her mate off of the eighty foot tall Sycamore tree.

In the image below you can just barely see the eggs under the snow that has slid onto the nest cup.

Mom is uncovered but where are the eggs? Image courtesy of Duke Farms Eagle Cam.

Some of the snow melted quickly. As you can see the female is still on the left hand side while the male has moved to the right. He is going to take a turn keeping the eggs warm while she has a wee break.

You can see the eggs! Image courtesy of Duke Farms Eagle Cam.

It was fascinating to watch the male eagle kind of fly jump back by his mate and then get on the eggs.

Under normal conditions the eagles do not move the snow off of the eggs. In this instance, it has fallen from the sides onto the egg cup. The parents simply leave whatever snow is on the eggs. The warmth of their bodies will soon cause it to melt and the surface of the eggs will dry. The eagles are being very protective of the coating on the egg so as not to damage the pores that allow air in to the developing eaglet.

Dad taking his place on the eggs. Image courtesy of Duke Farms Eagle Cam.

There was more snow during the night. Our poor mama is covered again but this time we can see her!

Mother Eagle literally buried in snow. Image courtesy of Duke Farms Eagle Cam.

By morning, the snow storm has passed and we can get a good look at the nest.

Seeing these birds just makes me ache. I want to bring them all inside and keep them warm or at least send in warming blankets for them. How dedicated these couples are!

The snow remains on the eagle aerie at Duke Farms. Image courtesy of Duke Farms Eagle Cam.

I have watched the little birds, like the Chipping Sparrows, make their nests in my garden and then the Grackles and I understand that Peregrine Falcons lay their eggs on gravel or sand or in a scrape box. But I didn’t know that much about Bald Eagle nests. Do you? If not, you can learn along with me.

Bald eagle’s large nest is called an aerie. Apparently Bald Eagle aeries, on average, are about five feet wide and three feet deep. OK. Stop. I thought how could they get their eggs if they were that far down in the nest! Silly me. Of course, it is the distance from the first stick to the top of the nest. The nest cup ranges from 30 to 40 centimetres (12 to 16 inches) in width. The depth seems to vary a lot. Many were surprised at how deep the cup was at Harriet and M15’s nest. It seems that the nest cup range is from about 10 centimetres (4 inches) to as much as as 30 centimetres (a foot) deep.

It is easy to see that nest cup ‘where the eaglets are supposed to stay’ in this image of E17 and E18 being fed by Harriet. I say that because both Hope and Peace crawled out of their nest cavity at two days old. They were so healthy. So sad to lose those two eaglets at Captiva to poisons. Hopefully the local campaign on the radio, television, and newspaper as well as flyers will get people to find other methods to kill rodents including hawks and owls!! Birds do better.

E17 and E18 getting fed in the nest cup. Image courtesy of SWFL Eagle Cam and D. Pritchett.

Bald Eagles are known to build the largest nests of any bird in North America. The males and females bring in new sticks to add structure along with other nesting materials to make the nest soft. Harriet and M15 at the SWFL nest in Fort Myers are fond of Spanish Moss to line their nest. You can see it in the image above. Just a few kilometres away on the Captiva Nest, Joe and Harriet use leaves. Each mated pair is different depending on what is available and what they like.

The largest Bald Eagle nest ever discovered was in St. Petersburg, Florida, in 1963. It was 2.9 metres wide (9.6″) and and 6 metres deep (20 feet). It weighed more than two metric tonnes (4409 lbs). The bald eagle builds the largest nest of any North American bird, up to 13 feet deep, 8.2 feet wide, and 1.1 tons in weight. If you look at images, you will generally see that the Bald Eagles, like the Osprey, construct their aeries near rivers, coastlines, or lakes where there is enough food for them and their little ones. The pair of eagles that are at Duke Farms hunt in the Raritan River.

The nest that you see at Duke Farms was rebuilt after Hurricane Sandy destroyed the top half of the tree the pair had their nest in. That was November 2012. Both eagles worked hard to construct a new aerie. They brought in sticks and you will notice how big that nest has gotten in fourteen years! Let us hope that they do not have to ever rebuild again.

And now it is time to bring you up to date on one of the nests we are watching together. What is happening with Harriet and M15’s little eaglets with the eye infection? And when will they get to go home? CROW says they are eating ferociously. Neither leave a drop of quail or rat! And they are putting on weight. And this morning I spotted a slight tinge of black or charcoal coming over them. It is their juvenile colours starting to break through! My goodness, these little eaglets grow up so fast.

In the picture below, the little eaglet is getting an injection of antibiotics. Their eyes are inproving and their appetites are good but the infection is still present. The vets do not want to send the eaglets back to Harriet and M15 til it is completely gone. Will keep you posted every day about their progress.

Eaglets get injection at meal time. Image courtesy of CROW.

Have a peek. Look at all that dark plumage coming in and if you look at the end of their beaks you will notice that the egg tooth is almost gone. It is that little white dot. When they arrived at the clinic, it was much bigger. Also their necks are getting longer too! They will be able to grab that fish and rabbit from their parents easier now. But I wonder if they will want the nice quail they have been eating?

Eaglets preparing to be weighted. Image courtesy of CROW

Oh, their eyes look so much better. Thank goodness that there are people who can muster the resources to take care of these beautiful eagles. Thank you CROW!

Thank you for joining me today. Tomorrow I will bring you an update on the eaglets, some images of the change over with the Albatross, and we will see what is happening elsewhere in the world of birds.

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