Siblicide at Dale Hollow Eagle Nest

17 March 2022

UPDATE: Little Bit played possum. It raised its head at 17:54 and was again attacked by Big. It is unclear as to the status of Little Bit currently. Sadly, it will not – without a miracle – survive the night.

WARNING: I believe it is important to recognize that nature is very cruel and to understand what is happening when you are witnessing siblings kill one another. This blog is about the siblicide that is now happening at Dale Hollow Nest.

River brought a small fish onto the nest around 14:30. The only chick that went up to the table to eat was Big. I initially thought that Big had eaten the entire fish and so, was surprised when River flew off after alerting for some minutes to see a piece left.

The chicks moved from their positions when River flew off the nest. Little Bit moved to the left rim and Middle saw the piece of fish and went over. Middle is too weak and too young to eat it. It was so sad seeming it so hungry and that fish laying there on the nest.

I have actually been watching Little bit to see if it was breathing. Parents come in different sizes with different capabilities. Often young Bald Eagle mothers take some time to figure out how to feed their little ones especially the first chick ever. River is 23 years old. She is an experienced mother.

I continue to ask what is happening on this nest. From what I know, the eagles work to protect their territory above all else. Then they take care of themselves, and then the chicks on the nest.

Middle has moved to the piece of fish and is calling its Mum to please come and feed it.

Middle made a move to lay on the fish and this alerted Big. Big immediately went over to Middle and began beaking it.

When he finished with Middle he went over to Little Bit and began tossing its neck around.

Big stopped. Little Bit was doing some quiet crying. Big went over to the rim and then it turned on Middle again. What you are witnessing is a classic case of siblicide. The older sibling has prevented the two younger from eating through intimidation and physical beaking and neck twisting. It is killing its siblings. In this case these actions appear to be a direct result of lack of enough food for all three on the nest. Indeed, there is barely enough food for one.

Middle moved to the left rim of the nest and has now walked by the fish again and is looking over the nest. Middle seems to be in much better shape than Little Bit.

In the image below Middle has gotten into the shade next to Big. Little Bit is in the heat of the sun. Very shallow breathing.

At 15:47, Little Bit raises its head and cries for food.

Big noticed Little Bit and went over to beak it.

As far as I can tell, Big stopped because it realized that the smallest sibling on the Dale Hollow Lake nest was dying slowly, calling out to a Mum who will not hear it, for food.

Big sibling is hot and bothered today. As you know, at least one parent will be there to shade them especially when they are not able to regulate the temperature themselves.

Did Little Bit ever have a chance? On a different nest, perhaps.

Big Bob went over to Little Bit and then turned again on Middle Bob.

Then he turned on Little Bit.

It appears that Little Bit is barely breathing at 14:27. Big is there, hot and panting hard, to make sure that it doesn’t get up to eat again.

Little Bit had some mini-convulsions at 16:29 and 16:32.

It is 16:44. An adult has returned to the nest and Big has gone over to be fed the rest of the fish. Middle did not bother to go up. Little Bit is barely breathing.

At 16:45, Little Bit actually found the energy to flip a bit – or it was another convulsion. Big immediately went over to make sure that the wee babe did not get to the food.

Big grabbed Little by the neck and tossed it about many times.

Big left Little Bit in the middle of the nest barely breathing. Indeed, I am shocked that Little Bit is still alive. Meanwhile, Middle is at the rim of the nest in the shade terrified.

It is incredible what this wee little one endured over the past hour and a half and is still breathing every so shallow. Big is determined to be the only chick on the nest because the food that is being brought in is barely enough to keep it alive.

It is hard to believe but Little Bit is just hanging on barely breathing.

Big sitting triumphantly over Little Bit. It is 17:10. I do not think Little Bit is with us any longer. Its suffering has surely ended.

We expect all bird parents to be the same and clearly, they are not. I have come to understand that what we have seen on this nest at Dale Hollow is pretty typical for River and Obey. Siblicide has occurred here in previous years. There are gold star eagle families and there are others where circumstances are neglectful. It is likely we will never know what happened in its entirety at this nest to set Big off to try to kill its siblings. We might never know the combined circumstances for the lack of prey delivery or the lack of attention by the mother, River. All I know is that it is terribly sad to see a lovely little chick crying for food while it is dying. At the same time, it is important to call it for what it is – siblicide. This is directly related to the need to survive. Big is the dominant bird on the Dale Hollow nest. With little food arriving, its instincts went into survival gear.

I am attaching a bit of information on a study done on siblicide. I want you to also notice that the individual includes instances of parental neglect. I found this helpful in understanding just how rare or not siblicide is.

If you have made it this far, thank you for hanging in with me today. This is a difficult topic and it is even more difficult to watch live on a screen. I hope that you learned something and I also hope that none of us see the instance of siblicide again this year. Please take care. It has been a rough couple of days at this nest. I am glad that Little Bit is no longer suffering. I hope that food comes on the nest and Middle is not the next victim.

Thank you to the Dale Hollow Lake Eagles for their streaming cam where I took my screen captures.


  1. Linda Kontol says:

    This is so sad Mary Ann. But it happens sometimes. I pray for middle to be ok 🙏
    Thanks for the update and the info to read about the sublicide.

  2. Lisa says:

    I’ve followed raptor nests for several years now and have to take a break from nests where such aggression is taking place. The hatch date difference was too great in my opinion. I believe nature to be harsh, not cruel. When Big Bob at Captiva passed, many were happy for middle and little. I grieved Big Bob.

    1. Dear Lisa, What was ironic about Dale Hollow is that Little Bit or DH16 was only three days difference from the other two considered twins since they hatched so close together. The chick was under developed, sadly, and starved. I was shocked to see Big Bob die. Shocked. I am so glad that the other two are seemingly alright. I haven’t been able to check but I do hope they find out what happened. It is a relief to see Middle and Little doing well at Captiva but I am never glad when one dies and you can see that Big Bob wasn’t anything like the Big at Dale Hollow. Completely different! Thank you so much for writing!

  3. Lisa says:

    Oh Maryann, I know you would never be relieved at the passing of any chick even if it is the aggressive one. My comment on Big Bob was general in that when you see the suffering and struggle of those ‘weaker’ siblings, it is very difficult emotionally to cheer on the aggressor. I’m very interested in Nature (instinct) vs Nurture (learned) as to how those aspects contribute to the overall success of a fledgling. Thank you so much for your contributions.

    1. Dear Lisa,
      I knew you weren’t saying that. I am sorry if it seemed or felt like that. It is sad. We want them all to live. And believe it or not Little Bit is still alive. And thank you, you are very kind. It is all my pleasure!

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