Ever wonder what it is like to be a first time bird mom?

One of the wonderful things to come out of the pandemic is the number of people who started watching streaming bird cams. Testimony after testimony speaks to the transformative power of the birds. They have brought joy to so many of us. The birds have taken away the isolation and loneliness of the pandemic. Together we have marvelled at how a Bald Eagle can shake the snow off her wings but never get a flake on the eggs she is incubating. We have held our collective breathes when Big Red, the Red Tail Hawk at Cornell, was blown off her nest.

We cried with joy when Ms Pippa Atawhai literally ran with her webbed feet to get to her dad, OGK, when he returned after being at sea. We smiled when they fledged wishing we could just hold on to them for a few more days. They touched our hearts.

Pippa (left) with OGK (right). @Cornell Bird Cams and NZ DOC

Since the end of January there have been many Bald Eagle hatches. There are many pip watches on the horizon and eggs are being laid around North America. In fact, the Bald Eagles in Canada’s most western province, British Columbia, have recently laid eggs, the earliest in the history of the nest at Surrey. Some of the parents are older and very experienced and for others, this is their first time to lay an egg, have it hatch, and have a tiny little eaglet to care for. It cannot be easy. They have no manuals. Their mothers or grandmothers are not there to help the young mothers understand how to feed their baby and care for it. And, yet, they do. The term ‘bird brain’ is misdirected. Study after study speaks to the genius of birds in terms of their communication, navigation, and their use of tools. An excellent book on this topic for the lay person is Jennifer Ackerman’s The Genius of Birds.

Along with using tools, communicating, and the migrating birds navigational system to get them to their favourite feeders in the summer, birds instinctively know that they must cover their babies in the snow and pouring rain when they have only natal down. The chicks, eaglets, eyases, or ‘babies’ as I often call them know to raise their little bottoms and shoot their ps out of the nest. They learn so fast! But wonder what it is like to be a first time ‘bird’ mother?

RTH hatchling J1, 2020. @Cornell Labs RTH Streaming Cam

At 11pm on the 23rd of February, the single eaglet on the Kisatchie National Forest nest hatched. Its parents are, as far as anyone knows, first timers. The nest is located in Central Louisiana. From the food deliveries, it appears that the area is relatively rich in prey, especially fish, which, of course, Bald Eagles love. The father understands his role as providing food to the nest, sometimes incubating the eggs, brooding the eaglet, and defense. The other evening when he took over brooding duties, out of habit he rolled the eaglet thinking that it was still an egg! The eaglet is fine but having rolled eggs for more than a month – it seems it might have become a habit, at least for the dads. The mother, in her enthusiasm, tried first to shove large bites of food in the eaglets mouth. It wasn’t working. It also was not working that she was holding her beak straight and vertical. Oh, when that poor baby got only one or two bites and the mother was ready to get back to brooding, I became the ‘auntie’ trying to explain to the young mother what to do through the screen. It didn’t work! Somehow the little thing managed grab enough of the big pieces that it survived. I admit to having my doubts for a couple of days. But then magic happened! On 1 March, the whole feeding process changed. Let me show you in a few images. I am so proud of both of them. Gold stars all around.

The chick is peeping and the mother responds by getting up from brooding. She moves to the pantry. The little eaglet is looking out of the nest bowl in the opposite direction from under its mother’s tail. This isn’t looking very hopeful.

Then the mother repositions herself.

OK. Mom is ready but, seriously. The little one is now in a different spot but still not aligned for a feeding.

The mother steps into the nest bowl, leans her head and tempts the little eaglet with a small piece of fish. She is teaching it to stand nearer to the pantry.

The little eaglet turns its head! And its beak aligns perfectly with its mothers. A nice bite of fish!

The mother continues offering bites, sometimes trying to hold her head differently. The little one continues to grab the fish. This is the longest and best feeding I have seen at this nest for this six day old eaglet. It is also getting stronger and can stabilize its head. I cannot even imagine what it is like trying to feed a bobble head.

It was almost a four minute feeding. The little one had a nice crop and it is now time to sleep and grow! For now the frequent feedings and smaller amounts are perfect. In a week we will see some longer feedings with larger bites. It is so wonderful to see these two figuring this most essential part of parenting and survival out. Fantastic!

Did you wait for a little one to be fed and then you said to yourself that it was alright for you to do something else or go to sleep? Everything just felt alright with the world. Well, today I smiled in relief. These two are going to be alright. If you would like to watch the little chick as it grows up at the KNF nest, please go here to watch the streaming cam:

Thank you for joining me today. It is almost spring…less than three weeks. Yippee.

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