‘Nest Stand Off?’

Daisy the Black Pacific Duck

The continuing saga of Daisy the Black Pacific Duck and Dad the White-Bellied Sea Eagle played out over the early morning and afternoon of 12 January. Dad stayed near the nest during the night keeping watch from a branch on the cam tree when he was not snoozing.

WBSE called ‘Dad’ slept on the branch of the cam tree
Dawn is Breaking and Dad is still guarding his nest

At 5:25, Dad was on guard trying to catch the bird that was using his nest. Daisy appears at 5:27. They must have just missed one another! She checks out the nest, does some quacking, and goes up what is known as the parent branch on the WBSE nest. At 5:40:17, Daisy flies from the branch into the forest. At the same moment, Dad returns to the nest. My goodness, this little duck is awfully lucky or she has the best intuition about the forest alerts!

Daisy arrives at the nest to check things out. She might be able to sense the WBSE was there.
Daisy was alerted to the arrival of the WBSE. She is quacking and has climbed to the fork in the branch where she will depart.

According to all the people who have observed this nest over the years, no other bird has ever made a nest within the wide WBSE nest and laid eggs. Plenty of small birds come to visit, including an owl, but none have ever attempted to use it.

Within a blink of Daisy departing, Dad arrives back on the scene!

Today, Dad is hungry and he works harder to grab one of the eggs with his beak and then his talon.

Dad rummages through the nest, tossing the fluffy down. He sets his eye on one of the eggs. Tapping it with his beak, he makes a tiny dent. Working with a talon, Dad is successful in removing the egg from the nest cup. After eating the contents, Dad is very careful to clean up the shells dumping them over the side. Does he not want the owner of the nest alerted to his tampering? Daisy now has 5 eggs left in her clutch.

Dad enjoying a Duck Egg Breakfast at 5:54

Dad departs the nest at 6:08. Meanwhile, Daisy is keeping close watch from the forest. She returns to the rim of the nest when she is absolutely sure that Dad is down at the Parramatta River and might not disturb her for awhile. She watches and listens from the rim of the nest over the forest. She is so alert. She raises her head many times just to check on the sounds. You can hear the Currawong in the background. Often they chase the WBSE. Then there are the Noisy Miners. Lorikeets can be heard in the distance. Daisy is alert to each and every sound! When she feels a little safer, she moves closer to the eggs. But, interestingly, she never goes near the nest. She remains ‘frozen’, not moving or making a sound for more than an hour.

Daisy moves towards the middle of the nest from the rim where she remains frozen, not making a sound.

Daisy is very quiet so as not to draw any attention to her movements. She has waited as long as she can to lay her seventh egg. At 9:07 she sits in the nest. At 9:32:28, Daisy lays her egg.

Daisy laying her egg

During her labour, Daisy rotates in the nest, enlarging it with her paddle feet. At the same time she is breathing a little heavier and her tail is moving up and down slightly as she gently arches her back, at times.

On all other previous days, Daisy had stayed on the nest for about an hour to an hour and a half after laying her egg, leaving to go and forage at the river. Today, Daisy does not leave. It appears that she is in hard incubation.

It is nearing 2:30 in the afternoon Sydney time. Daisy remains on her eggs. Only time will tell what Dad will do if and when he returns. Stay tuned!

UPDATE: Daisy has been incubating the eggs for seven hours now. It is 26 degrees C in Sydney and hotter in the sun on the nest. Daisy is panting from the heat. So far, no sign of the WBSEs.

Daisy incubating her eggs, mid Tuesday afternoon, 12 January, Sydney time

At 4:30, Daisy covers the eggs and flies from the nest.

The suspense is killing me! Back tomorrow with the latest.

The Continuing Saga of Dad and the Duck or ‘As the Nest Turns’

Just to bring those of you up to speed in case you haven’t read my earlier blog. In early December, a pair of Pacific Black Ducks investigated the nest of a pair of White-Bellied Sea Eagles (WBSE) in an old Ironwood Tree in the forest of the Sydney Olympic Park in Sydney, Australia. On 14 December, a nest cup was excavated in the centre of the sea eagle nest by the ducks. (Note: This is off-season for the sea eagles.). Six days later, ‘Dad’, the male partner of ‘Lady’, to whom the nest belongs, came to the nest for one of his periodic territory checks. The female aptly named ‘Daisy’ by Phyllis Robbins of the WBSE chat group laid her first egg in the nest cup on 5 January 2021.

Female Black Pacific Duck

On the morning of 11 January, Daisy arrives at the nest just after dawn. Before she could lay her egg, vocalizations from other birds in the forest alert her that the sea eagle is about. Indeed, Daisy might have been listening for the male sea eagle because he had come to the nest the previous day. That day she quickly covered the eggs and flew off the nest but stayed in proximity. Dad stayed for about half an hour before leaving and within a few minutes, Daisy returned to lay her sixth egg without interruption. This morning, however, Daisy had not laid her egg when the large sea bird appeared. She stood on the rim of the nest and quacked as Dad flew to the camera tree. She left so abruptly that she did not have time to cover her eggs but, it seems that Dad did not notice her physical presence on the nest or her quacking.

Dad surveyed his territory remaining on the tree that supports the camera for the live stream for about an hour. He might have thought that the bird laying the eggs would return without noticing him and he would find out who this mysterious bird is.

White-Bellied Sea Eagle Male known as ‘Dad’ scanning his territory for intruders.

After about an hour and a half, Dad flew to the nest tree to see first hand what was happening. He had noticed the eggs the previous day by rummaging around in the leaves. He even tried to pick one up with his bill but to no avail.

Three of the six Black Pacific Duck Eggs

Today the eggs were clearly visible. Look carefully. Daisy has started removing down from her breast to line the nest. This physiological process is called zugunruhe.

Under normal circumstances, Daisy would arrive at dawn to lay her egg. She would do this every day until she finished laying all of the eggs for her clutch. This can vary between 8-13 eggs. After laying her egg, Daisy often remains on the nest for a period of about an hour before departing for the river to forage for the rest of the day. Once all of the eggs are laid, Daisy will begin full incubation, being relieved periodically by her mate. After twenty-eight days, the ducklings will hatch. Then, the following day (after 24 hours), they will take a giant leap of faith and jump off the rim of the nest, a distance of approximately fourteen metres, to the forest floor. Here they will follow their mother to the Parramatta River where they will immediately begin foraging for themselves.

Dad inspecting the Black Pacific Duck’s eggs

Today, Dad began to curiously inspect the nest with the eggs. For what seemed like an eternity, he would look at the eggs and then look around the immediate environment of the tree. It was actually like he was confused. At one point he tried to pick up one of the eggs but he couldn’t do it. It isn’t that they are heavy; the shape is just awkward for him to handle with his beak. He did not try to move the eggs with his giant talons nor did he attempt to break them. He did toss some of the down around. At one point, it even looked like he might start brooding the eggs. It was a very strange exchange because Dad’s hormones are not thinking about breeding or brooding. He is in the midst of moulting.

Dad trying to move one of the eggs

The entire morning was very suspenseful. Currawongs and Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos were screeching in the background and at one point, it was thought that Daisy even did a fly by.

And then the oddest thing happened. Very delicately, Dad covered up the eggs at 9:01 am.

Dad covered up the duck eggs so that no one could see them

If that wasn’t peculiar enough, Dad went up to one of the ‘parent branches’ on the nest tree and stood vigil. More than once, Dad flapped his wings to keep the Currawongs away! Take altogether, these three actions scream out that his intuition is to protect the eggs.

Dad standing guard over the nest

Dad stayed for more than an hour before departing. At the time of this writing, he has returned once again to the nest tree where he is keeping watch over his territory.

Stay tuned!

Something magical is happening

A Pacific Black Duck laid her second egg in an old Ironwood nest in Sydney Olympic Park, 6 November, 2020. The first egg was laid on 5 November. Photo is screen shot of Live Sea Eagle Cam, Sydney.

A week or so ago, a Pacific Black Duck was seen investigating what she might have thought was an abandoned nest in Sydney Olympic Park. The duck made several visits and according to others, ducks have investigated this nest in the past but have never laid eggs. This year things got more serious. ‘A hole’ was observed by the moderators of the White-Bellied Sea Eagle Chat. On Tuesday, November 5, those same moderators observed that an egg was laid. This morning there is a second.

Despite the name referencing ‘black’, the adult ducks, who live only to about two years, have dark brown plumage. The coverts, which cover the very important flight feathers and help keep them smooth, are either pale yellow or white at the tips. The secondary feathers are green. The under wings are dark brown with feathers that have a yellow edge. The head features a brown crown with a pale yellow section running from the bill to the ear coverts (the feathers that protect the ear). There is a dark line running from the lores, the area between the eye and the bill, to the ear coverts.   Above and below are pale yellow areas running from the bill to the ear coverts. The bill is a dark grey. The image is of the female on the eggs below. You can see the lines running from the lores to the ear coverts easily. The bill in this image appears as a blue grey. The eyes are a deep brown. The bottom sides of the head are a lighter brown than on the body. Despite being more dull in colour than the male, this image of the female Black Pacific duck shows the beauty of her feathers and the magnificent emerald green patches on the wings.

A side view of the Black Pacific Duck sitting on her two eggs in the Ironwood Nest, Sydney Olympic Park with a lorikeet looking on.

Pacific Black Ducks only mate when there is secure quantities of food and water. They lay a clutch of eleven to thirteen eggs. Their environmental status is secure in Australia but, in reality, only about 20% of hatchlings survive to age two according to BirdLife Australia.

Why are Lorikeets so excited to see this Black Pacific Duck with her eggs? By looking at them jumping all over the branches of the tree and the one above sitting on the rim of the nest looking at the duck, you can imagine that something special is happening.

The Rainbow Lorikeet is a medium sized sweet natured parrot that is quite nosey. They are native to New South Wales where Sydney is located and farther South in Australia. They are extremely talkative and their high pitched screeches have been known to scare many. If you look at the featured image you will see right away why they are called ‘Rainbow’ Lorikeets. Their heads and bellies are a deep royal blue while a bright emerald green colour feathers on their wings, back, and heads. The red breasts have orange and yellow on the sides. Their beaks are red. Males and females have the same bright plumage and it is apparently difficult to differentiate the gender without DNA testing or a surgical procedure. They lives to be approximately thirty years. It is their inquisitive nature that has drawn them today to the large nest of the White-Bellied Sea Eagles currently occupied by the Black Pacific Duck.

White-Bellied Sea Eagles are the second largest bird of prey or raptor in Australia. The wingspan ranges from 1.8 – 2.2 metres or 6 to 7 feet. They can weigh up to 4.2 kilos or 9 pounds. The birds have reverse sex-size dimorphism meaning that the female is larger than the male. The nest you are looking at ‘belongs to’ Lady and Dad who have a river roost along the mangroves of the Parramatta River. The diameter of the nest is approximately 6.5 feet. Their breeding season is normally from June to January when they lay, on average, two eggs.

WBSE 25 (left) and WBSE 26 (right) in August. They are all covered with their baby down.
WBSE 25 (right) and WBSE 26 (left) in the nest before fledging. Notice the rich colour of the juvenile plumage. In five or six years they will get their adult feathers.

White-Bellied Sea Eagles are huge birds who live mostly on fish caught with their strong legs and held by their talons. The nests of the sea eagles is normally within a kilometre of a source of fish, either a lake or a river. Other prey brought to the nest includes eels, Silver-tipped Gulls, a fox cub in the 2020 season, a turtle, and various other opportunistic catches.

It is not uncommon for other birds to investigate the nest while the sea eagles raise their young. Many want to protect their own territory from these large raptors and that includes the small owl, the BooBook Owl who comes at night and often hits the parents roosting on the branches of the nest. The Currawong is noisy and chases the fledglings trying also to chase them out of the forest. Magpies are another nuisance. The adults flap their wings or chase them away. The eaglets quickly learn to protect their territory too often standing up in the nest, flapping their wings, and honking to get the intruders to leave. Normally, the sea eagles check their nest periodically when they scan their territory. They also bring in more sticks and leaves readying it for their next breeding season.

As the Rainbow Lorikeets circle the beautiful Black Pacific Duck in celebration and curiosity, we have to ask ourselves what will happen to this mother duck and her brood? Stay tuned.

White Bellied Sea Eaglet 26

Has anyone’s life not been changed by something happening in 2020? Have you had to work at home? did you have a friend or a family member get Sars-COVID 19 and die? Did your business have to close? Did you wonder how you would pay your rent or mortgage? Did you long just to visit with family or friends? Or take that vacation you had been planning for years only to have it cancelled? It clearly has not been an easy year for everyone.

My blog is normally about contemporary Canadian ceramics but this year has been different. In between writing book chapters on ceramics and the environment, I have, like millions of others, taken the time to watch live bird cams. I became very attached to Big Red and Arthur, the Red-Tail Hawks whose territory includes the Cornell University campus in Ithaca. Like so many others, I would wake up in the middle of the night and check on Big Red. Often she was encased in ice (yes, that is true) incubating her eggs or protecting her eyases. The Js fledged about six weeks before the time that the White-Bellied Sea Eagles were hatching in their nest. That nest is in an old Ironwood and Turpentine forest near the Sydney Olympic Park. Two eggs with both hatching. This years numbers are 25 and 26.

WBSE 26 was inspirational. Sometime, shortly after hatching, her leg was broken.  When 26 would cheep when the parents would leave the nest, 25 would comfort 26. This is something very special. Normally sea eaglets are very competitive because that is their instinct, to survive. Even when they were getting ready to be fed, 25 would help 26. What an amazing sibling 25 was.

For more than a month, 26 scooted on its ankles always getting to the prey first but losing it because she could not hold on tight. It didn’t matter. Both thrived under the good care of Lady and Dad.

In the image above, 26 is on the left and 25 is on the right. If they were sleeping in the nest, you could hardly tell them apart. 25 had a little more colour, a little more rust or peach around its head. It was only when they stood up or when 25 was jumping up and down and walking easily that you knew which was which.

26 worked hard to do all the things that her older sibling could do and in turn, she provided inspiration for the elderly and physically challenged on the chat line.  She practiced her wingersizing. She climbed higher and higher on the branches til she got as high as where her parents roosted at night. She figured out how to feed herself and hold on to the prey. Everyone hoped that she would be able to hunt and live like a normal sea eagle in the wild. She had worked so hard to attain every milestone.

26 fledged but returned to the nest after six days.  She rested and the parents fed her.  On the fifth day, she fledged again.  She was harassed by a bunch of currawongs and to help fend them off, a Magpie joined 26.  This is not normal, like everything else in 2020. Normally the Magpies and the eaglets are sworn enemies.

Later that day the currawongs chased 26 out of the forest.  A day later she was discovered on the 22nd floor of a high-rise apartment building a mile away from the nest in the Sydney Olympic Park.  What a surprise that must have been for the owners finding a nearly 75 cm high eaglet with a wingspan of 2.5 metres on your balcony before you have even had breakfast? 26 could not, however, fly out of the balcony because it was partially covered and there was lots of furniture. The owner called the wild life rescue and 26 was taken into care, first by WIRES who provides care and vet services. Later 26 was taken to the team at the Taronga Zoo.

All of her on line fan club hoped that 26 would go through rehabilitation and become an educational bird. She had, however, a broken right leg that had not healed properly. She could not put any weight on it and because of that the left leg had suffered major cuts and lesions for overcompensating. Even the right leg was injured. The veterinary team determined after observing and feeding 26 for several days that she could not survive in the wild if they amputated her leg. They were also concerned about the high level of pain she was experiencing. To try surgery to mend the broken leg meant even more pain and no guarantee of success. However, it was determined that she was in such pain that the kind thing to do would be to euthanize her.  This turned out to be a bit of a controversial decision because of the physically challenged/people with disabilities who saw themselves in her struggle. It will be awhile before all of the tears dry up. Every day someone tells me how much 26 meant to them. Many wrote poems and tributes and I am including the one that I wrote for 26. I hope that it might also be inspiring to you. She was special. No one can quite put their finger on the ‘why’ of it all but there is no doubt in my mind that 26 gave hundreds of people a great gift and that gift was her time with us.

My greatest glory is not my falling but in rising up when I did.

Many believed I would never stand but, I did.

Many believed I would never branch.

Many believed I would never stand to sleep.

Many believed I would never self-feed.

But, I did all of those things.

Many believed I would never fly.

But I flew, high and fast, with strong wind in my wings.

Believe in yourself as I believed in me.

Soar above everyone’s expectations.

Don’t count how many days you soar but how well and high.

Never give up.  I didn’t.

Images Courtesy of Sea-EagleCAM@BirdLife Australia Discovery Centre, Sydney Olympic