Feeding Time

Sometimes parents feed the little ones and sometimes it is those lovely folks at the rehab clinics. Here is a screen shot of a video at a wildlife rehab clinic. It shows the sweetest little GHOW eating its dinner and the staff being ever so careful for it not to inprint on humans by using a GHOW puppet and tongs. The face of the person is covered as well.

A quick scan around the nests showed that everyone managed to go to sleep with a ‘crop.’ Raptors have crops. The only raptors that do not have a crop are owls. They have this really wide esophagus that helps them to swallow prey whole – think a whole mouse going down all at once! For all other raptors, the crop is properly called an ingluvies. It is a pouch below the esophagus that holds food before it goes into the stomach proper. Scientists are just beginning to understand how important the crop is for bird health. It doesn’t just store the food and moisten it but the crop plays a significant role in regulating the immune system of the birds. After the bird has softened all the food in the crop that can be digested, the bird will do a ‘crop drop’ when their gizzard is empty. Anything in the crop that could not be digested such as fur, feathers, teeth, claws, bones, etc. will be compressed into a pellet called a ‘casting.’ You might have even taken apart pellets in your science classes. They are a good way to study the prey in the area of the birds. When birds are ready to ‘cast’ a pellet, they often do not feel like eating. You might even see them in the process of casting out the pellet as they often appear to be slightly choking, especially when they are young. And you will have seen parents feeding little ones fur and feathers. Those actually help clean the crop.

One of the most challenging things for a first time Bald Eagle mother is feeding her new born bobble head. The eaglet is not strong enough to hold its head steady so it is constantly moving for the first couple of days. Add that to the fact that the eagle has a lateral visual field means that they can see from the side but not directly in front of them. So the mothers have to learn to tilt their head and their beak so that the little one can grab the prey.

The first time mother, Anna, on the Kisatchie Eagle Nest in Central Louisiana took a few days to figure this out. My goodness when she did, the feedings were remarkable. Louis, her mate, wins all the prizes for having a full pantry for Bald Eagles. One day there were eighteen fish. The little one – who just received its official name on St. Patrick’s Day -Kisatchie – is always full. Its crop was so heavy today that the eaglet simply fell over. It is a good problem to have. Many nests struggle from a lack of prey. In fact, many on the chat this morning were wishing some of this food could be sent over to the Duke Farms Bald Eagle Nest, including me.

In the space of an hour and a half, Louis filled up the pantry some more, just in case!

The little one’s mother persuaded it to have a few more bites. Its crop is so heavy it is sagging. Look carefully if you have never seen a ‘crop’.

The oldest eaglet at Duke Farms in Hillsborough, New Jersey has secured its dominant role on the nest. Today this worked to the advantage of the littlest who is very intimidated. The older one was fed the last bits of ‘something’. It had long dark feathers. I first thought of a crow but then a heron because of the legs. It is hard to determine a prey just from a pile of bones! The little one cowered and was looking the other way. The older was getting quite full and the mother determined that not another piece of meat could be found. So she moved over to a nice fish. By then the oldest was slowly going into a food coma. At first the little one stretched its neck – it was behind the big one. It did the quick snatch. Then when it realized the older one wasn’t interested, it made its way to a position where it could be fed easier. Oh, it had a nice full crop of fish! Lovely. You might have said it to yourself or even out loud if you have watched these smaller ones struggle that you can go to sleep now that they are fed. It certainly is reassuring to see that large crop. There could be a prey issue at this nest. Let us hope not!

The Osplets at the Achivea Osprey Cam in St Petersburg, Florida had a couple of decent meals today. One was around 9:30 and this fish came in around 7pm. It could well be too hot for fishing during the day. I am reminded that fish go deeper when it is really hot.

I worry about Tiny Tot. And that is because I have seen too many Osprey nests with three where the little one doesn’t ‘make it’. My chest even gets a little tight. Diane is, however, a remarkable Osprey mother. Everyone gets fed. That means that no single Osplet gets to eat til its crop is full and sagging at the expense of the others. Yesterday it was very hot and a fish didn’t come in til really late. Each lined up politely. They did the same thing today. Tiny Tot is the closest in the image and he let Diane know he was there and hungry! If you look carefully you can see his wide open mouth. Mum did not ignore him. Ideally the little ones are fed less food but more frequently but, sometimes the deliveries just do not work out for that kind of feeding schedule.

Clyde, the mate of Bonnie, are the pair of Great Horned Owls that stole the Bald Eagle nest in Kansas. They have two little owlets whose eyes are still closed. Clyde delivers the prey directly to Bonnie on the nest. It is usually a mouse or a vole. One evening he brought Bonnie a hawk! Bonnie lays the prey aside. When she feeds the owlets, she tears pieces off with her razor sharp teeth and feeds them. Within a couple of weeks, the owlets will have grown enough to swallow prey whole. They do not have crops. Their gizzard deals with grinding all the food and they will also cast a pellet of what cannot be digested. They will also be able to regulate their heat. Any day now their eyes should be open!


They were all full last night and some are waiting this morning depending where they are. Wonder if those owls will have their eyes open today?

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to everyone who celebrates. Thank you for joining me. Together we can all start learning how to say Kisatchie!

Thank you to the Achieve Credit Union in St Petersburg, Farmer Derek, Duke Farms, Kisatchie National Forestry Service for their streaming cams. That is where I took my scaps.

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