Sadness and Hope in Latvia

Spilve is a northern neighborhood of Riga, Latvia. It is most famous for its airport that was operating during World War I which is still busy today training pilots. The word Spilve means a type of ‘cotton grass’.

Spilve Airport with its classical facade. Wikimedia Commons.

Spilve is also the name of a very young and extremely beautiful female Golden Eagle and she is the heroine of our story.

The Golden Eagle is one of the largest raptors in the world. This strong eagle is capable of killing cows and horses but normally subsists on medium sized mammals and large birds. They also eat carrion (dead animals, mostly road kill). Golden Eagles are about the same size as Bald Eagles. Their plumage is a beautiful golden brown and their heads are brown with a gold nape. Their average life span is thirty-two years. In Latvia, they are only a few Golden Eagles. They are extremely rare. They are listed in the Red Book (both in Latvia and Russia) and are highly protected. The European Union Directive 2009/147/EC and Article 4 of the Bird Directive also protect their habitats. Various other laws set up protection zones around nests – year round and seasonal. Anyone must have a permit to enter as human interference is prohibited. With the advent of human-made platform nests, there is a slow increase in the number of Golden Eagles.

In 2010, Ugis Bergmannis, Senior Environmental Protection Agent, built an artificial Golden Eagle nest on an isolated island in a bog. That site is managed by Latvian State Forests. Eaglets were raised on that site up to and including 2016 when the male, Virsis, lost his mate. (No one knows how old Virsis is). There were many females that came around the nest that Virsis protected but no bonds were made. Then in 2019 a dark eyed, dark feathered beauty came to the nest. She was too young to breed but Virsis must have been attracted to her. In the late winter of 2020, the pair began to bring twigs to the nest. During March they were mating. Streaming cam watchers along with the people of Latvia were excited because it had been more than three years since a little Golden eaglet had hatched on that nest! Golden Eagles are extremely rare. Eyes were glued to the streaming cam feed and then at 16:30 on the 28 of March 2020, Spilve went into labour for three minutes. At the end she was chorteling to Virsis to come see. The first egg was fully laid at 16:33. So many people in Latvia and around the world celebrated. On 1 April, Spilve laid her second egg.

Spilve looking at her spotted egg.

Golden Eagles take from 40-45 days of incubation between the day the egg is laid and hatch. Local statistics state that only 8% of the Golden Eagle nests having two eggs actually fledge two juveniles. Of Spilve’s eggs, only one hatched. The first egg was unviable and the second hatched on day 38, the 9th of May 2020. The young eaglet was named Klints which means ‘Rock’. The word for Golden Eagle in Latvian is ‘Klinsu Erglis’.

Little Klints is born on 10 May 2020. Spilve looks down seeing her first eaglet.

The early prey was just small birds brought to the nest. The normal prey for Golden Eagles is rabbits and fawns and some wondered if this area had enough food for the family. Images on the streaming cam show the parents arriving with full crops but often there was no food on the nest. This begins to change after about a week. On 17 May, Spilve catches a large rabbit while Virsis cares for Klints. It is a feast for the whole nest including Klints who is chirping away. After this, a variety of food is brought to the nest including a fox cub, more hares, and even ducks. Food items are plentiful and Klints thrives.

I can stand up – on my ankles!

Virsis and Klints looking into one another’s eyes. How touching.

Klints with Virsis.

By June 1, Klints is strong and is standing.

Klints. 1 June 2020. Standing and looking over edge of nest.

Family portrait on 5 June. Virsis on the left, Klints in the middle and Spilve on the right. Virsis made five small prey deliveries on this day. Everyone is doing well.

Family portrait. Virsis on the left, Spilvie on the right and little Klints with a full crop in the middle.

The following day, Virsis brings the legs of a rabbit and its spine to the nest along with a raccoon for the pantry. Watch out Klints!

Food delivery! Watch out below.

Klints watches, in anticipation, his father deliver the heavy raccoon to the nest. Klints is in his accelerated growing phase and needs a lot of food.

By now Klints is very steady when he is standing and you can see the gorgeous black feathers coming in at the wing tips. What a beautiful eaglet!

Did you order a raccoon?

Parents begin to leave Klints on the nest alone by itself. They bring small prey items and Klints mantles and tries to eat them whole without a lot of success. Spilve feeds him. On the 12th of June only a small bird is delivered to Klints by Virsis. It is raining off and on and it is getting hot and humid. 13 June is a much better hunting day for Virsis and he brings a large prey item into the nest. There is enough for everyone!

On 16 June Spilve arrives at the nest with a limp. There is a big thunderstorm and no prey items on the nest for Spilve and Klints to eat. Both are cold and drenched.

Cold and shivering.

Once the rain stops, Virsis brings food to the nest for Klints. Shortly after, Spilve arrives with a small bird. There is lots for everyone to eat. Klints is not self-feeding and he relies on Spilve to feed him. He is meeting each and every one of his milestones. Look at the gorgeous dark plumage coming in on Klints’s wings and back.

Virsis brings prey to Klints.

21 June. Huge milestone. Klints begins self-feeding! Like every other eaglet, it depends on the prey item as to how much success they will have. Spilve is not far away. She watches over Klints so no intruder will harm him. Klints has a difficult time and on 23 June Spilve is at the nest to feed him a late morning breakfast.

23 June Spilve feeds a breakfast of leftovers. Mom and little one kissing.

On 22 June, Vrisis brings in two baby cubs and an adult Black Grouse. This is a bounty. Everyone eats well. Adult eagles can travel as much as 10 kilometres to hunt. Vrisis makes it clear that there are ample prey items to bring to the nest.

23 June. Exercising in the 28+ C temperatures.

June 22 is the last time Virsis is ever seen. He will be presumed dead. Without Virsis to bring in large prey items, Spilve is limited to the area of the nest for hunting. The female eagle’s main job is to take care of and protect the eaglet at the nest. She will only then only hunt around the nest for both of them to survive. Owls and other predators do live in the area. Spilve brings the small prey item which is on the nest near Klints’s talons but he cannot eat. It is too late.

As one of the researchers said, a week without enough food caused this very healthy Golden Eaglet to die of starvation. They said it is clear that one adult cannot feed the baby. And, indeed, after Virsis disappears, owls are around the nest and Spilve knows she cannot leave her baby.

30 June 2020

Klints dies of starvation on 1 July 2020. Spilve brings a small food item and tries to wake Klints to eat. She brings food twice before she comes to understand what has happened. How very, very sad.

1 July 2020

Spilvie was seen visiting the nest in August. She was very careful around the body of Klints which is partially covered with pine needles. Some eagles are known to cover the bodies of their dead in the nest, sometimes moving them periodically. Others cover them and leave them for a few days and then remove them. Eagles have their mourning rituals. At the Captiva Bald Eagle nest in Florida, little Peace was kept in the nest for a number of days and then removed. When Hope died, the parents stood vigil over her body until it was removed for a necroscopy. Both died of rodenticide poisoning, something that could easily be avoided. Peace was young but Hope was big and strong like Klints. So very, very sad.

Spilve is very, very careful. She finds the little bit of food that she brought to Klints after he had died and she eats it.

I am trying to find out if this is a last visit to the nest for Spilve before she migrates for the winter. If anyone knows, please write to me.

On 25 February 2021, a stranger comes to the nest.

Soon Spilve and the new male are making nestorations. It appears that they have bonded. Klints body is covered with more pine and twigs.

You can see the video here;

I would like to thank one of my readers, Etj from Brazil, for alerting me to this wonderful nest and to the plight of this family. All of the scaps of Virsis, Spilve, Klints, and the new male are taken from the Latvian Golden Eagles/LVM Klinsu erglis streaming cam. (Be aware of the time difference. I am not showing images during the night and either the cam is down or there is no IR). Let us all hope that Spilve and her new mate have many successful years together and healthy fledges.

2 Comments

  1. Dear Mary,

    Thank you for writing about Klint. I live near Leicester, in the UK. I did watched his nest and and how he died. It really touched my heart and made me think a lot of what happened. I still need to process and understand my feeling which occurred watching this sweet family and how they struggled to survive…

    1. Dear Elena, You are so welcome. A young man in Brazil wrote to me about Spilve and he, too, aches with pain. It is more than difficult and often beyond understanding and tears our hearts. I have only recently read of a nest where the researcher set up a food table for a mother who lost her mate. The fishermen donated fish so that the mother and babies would survive. It was an Osprey nest at Rutland. Reading that is causing me to rethink the responsibility we have. And thank you so much for writing to me. I know that Leicester must have changed so much. I went to University there decades ago.

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