A Good Day at the Hamlet

The day started off with a beautiful morning sunrise at the NEFlorida Bald Eagle nest of Samson and Gabby, NE26 and 27, commonly known as ‘Little Bit’. This nest was and is often called ‘The Hamlet’.

It is going to be partially cloudy in Jackssonville, Florida with none of the horrid rain the eagles had the other week. It is 22 C. The wind is blowing at just 8 kmh.

NE 26 hatched on 26 January with 27 hatching on the 25th. Tomorrow, NE26 will be two weeks old!

Nice siblings making a cuddle puddle.

They are a couple of wiggle worms eating and sleeping and moving all over their big nest.

The little nestlings are becoming curious about the environment outside the nest.

Samson and Gabby make sure that both eaglets are full. No one is left out. There are no worries at this nest about Little Bit not getting his share.

In fact, Little Bit hogged most of a feeding today. Meanwhile, 26 sat and watched. 26 still has a crop from an earlier feeding!

Even so, both were fed as much as they could hold.

These little cuties know where the food is but they are not curious like some of the older eaglets on other nests – yet. Notice the clown feet stage is upon us! These two are right on time in terms of development. Those footpads and talons are growing. They are turning yellow and if I could get a close up of their talons we would see that they are now black, not pink.

You can also see the dandelions from the natal down slowly being replaced by their thermal down.

These two are well fed and very healthy. Their eyes are clear. There is no hint of the Avian Pox that Legacy had last year and just look at those fat legs and bottoms!

More feedings! That is Little Bit up front. This is some kind of bird that Samson has brought to the nest.

The feedings are averaging 30 minutes a session – that is a far cry from when these two were ‘wee ones’ and could only eat a couple of flakes of fish at a time.

The eaglets spend between 75-80 days, typically, in the nest before fledging. The first 35 or 40 days are spent eating and growing. We sure see that. The second half their flight feathers come in and they work on skills, such as wingersizing, to help them after they fledge and playing pinecone which helps them learn to grip with their talons.

We are entering week 3 (days 14-21) for both of these eaglets. You will see some changes. The natal down will disappear from their heads last. It might look like they have mohawk hair cuts. Pin feathers will begin to grow in. You will also notice that Gabby and Samson fill up the eaglets even more so that their crops often look so big they can hardly move. It is an exciting time for these babies. At the end of week 3 they will look less like little fuzzy babies and more like eagles.

The feathers will grow and cover their ears, too. It is so exciting – and, at the same time, a little sad. They are so cute when they are wee.

If you haven’t been watching Samson, Gabby, 26 and 27, these wee ones are growing fast. Here is a link to the streaming cam:

Thank you for joining me today. Take care everyone. See you soon.

Thank you to the NEBald Eagles and the AEF for their streaming cam where I took my screen captures today.

Tuesday in Bird World

The snow that began last night is continuing to come down in the garden. It is gusty and blowing and the birds are having a difficult time finding a place to get out of the wind. I would love for someone to contradict me but, I do not recall this much snow in 15 years. Thankfully, there is no reason to get out, not even for birdseed. We have at least another two weeks on hand! There are times that I think the garden visitors eat better than their caregivers! It is the running family joke.

You might have felt that I am a little ‘shy’ of that WRDC nest of Ron and Rita’s. This is a new Bald Eagle couple to me. It is really difficult to see if R2 is getting much food. Clearly R1 is a bit of a brute. R3 would not have had a chance. The adults often stand in front of the camera so the view is restricted or, else, I can only see R1 bonking the little one. There is lots of food. Ron is a good provider.

I want to imagine that I am terribly wrong and that the adults are feeding R1 until it passes out in a food coma and then are making sure that R2 is full to the brim. If you have seen this please let me know! I would be delighted.

Some good news. There is no sign of Daisy the Duck on the White-Bellied Sea Eagle Nest in the Sydney Olympic Forest. Continue to send your positive energy to our little duck so she finds a safe place to hatch some eggs!

The bad news – unless you are a GHOW fan – is that Mrs Hootie laid her first egg on the Savannah Osprey nest of Scarlett and Rhett. Where will this longstanding Osprey couple lay their eggs?

The snow is melting in Ithaca, the home of Big Red and Arthur.

The Clark Fork River is open in places near Missoula, Montana. It is hard to imagine but in 9 weeks Big Red should be laying eggs and in 10 weeks we will be looking for Iris, the oldest Osprey in the world, to return to her nest at Hell Gate Canyon.

There is some snow in Latvia and like here in Canada, I expect that they will see more. Milda’s nest is waiting for her albeit there have been intruders.

The eaglet at the KNF nest was stretching its little wings this morning. It is 6 days old and is energetic, curious, healthy, and happy. What more could you want?!

Anna and Louis are quickly becoming one of my most favoured Bald Eagle couples!

Pa Berry fed B15 til it passed out in a food coma. I had missed seeing him brooding or feeding so this really put a smile on my face. B15 is a little character. Full of life! So happy.

Pa Berry was really aerating the nest this morning!

R15 is so cute. I wonder if R15 will get attached to ‘eggie’ like Legacy did last year?

The two eaglets of Harriet and Mitch are doing fine at the Hilton Head Island Bald Eagle nest. Have a close look. That second layer of dark grey down is covering them and there are feathers peeking through. Soon they will look like E19 and E20.

E20 looks on as E19 is eating at the SWFlorida Bald Eagle Nest. It will wait til E19 is finished and then will go and have food.

Ferris Akel posted a very short video of the Canada Geese and the Snow Geese from last Sunday’s tour. I had not seen so many since our migration in September-October here in Winnipeg.

Ervie is on the nest and will, no doubt, be ramping up the volume screaming for a fish once the dawn breaks at Port Lincoln. Oh, Ervie. Are you going to be another Izzi? We do adore you and we wouldn’t mind! On the other hand, you did get the sat-pak! Will the conclusion be that at least one male Eastern Osprey likes to stay at the natal nest? Oh, Ervie, you do put a smile on our faces.

Thank you for joining me today. It is so nice to have you with me. Take care! See you soon.

Thank you to the following for their streaming cams where I took my screen shots: WRDC, KNF, Port Lincoln Osprey Project, Hilton Head Island Trust, SWFlorida and D Pritchett, Berry College, Cornell Bird Cam and Montana Osprey Project, Cornell Bird Cam and RTH, Cornell Bird Lab and Savannah Ospreys, Latvian Fund for Nature, and Sea Eagles@Birdlife Australia Discovery Centre Sydney Olympic Park.

Milestones

Birds have developmental ‘milestones’ just like humans. Right now there are so many Bald Eagle nests where eaglets are already two or four weeks old. In others, the parents are incubating eggs. And there are others where the parents are only beginning to start working on the nests. You can see every stage of a Bald Eagles growth from the female laying the egg to their fledging from the nest on the many streaming eagle cameras. Every eaglet is different, just like people and their development will not happen on a single specific date.

Within the overall umbrella of bird development, you might remember Daisy the Duck (see previous blogs for more information on this remarkable little duck). This Black Pacific Duck laid her eggs in the Sea Eagles nest. We knew that the ducklings would jump from the nest 24 hours after hatching if we actually got to hatch – which, sadly, we did not. Those ducklings could see, forage, swim, and take care of themselves without help from the parent. Daisy would, still, gather them up and protect them during the night. Fully independent of their mother, those ducklings would have been ‘precocial’. In contrast, the eaglets are not fully developed, nor are they able to feed themselves, or fly down from their nest. Indeed, they are covered with fluffy down but are unable to regulate their temperature.

It takes from ten to thirteen weeks for eaglets to fledge whereas the ducklings do this at twenty-four hours. Eagles as well as all other hawks or raptors are ‘semi-altricial’. This means that they will be dependent on their parents for everything they need until fledge. Even after fledging, the parents will teach them to hunt and will provide prey supplements for them.

Until the onset of streaming cams, there was very little quantitative information on the development of Bald Eagle Nestlings. Today, there are cameras, often more than one, on nests around the world. You can, at any time of the day, watch Bald Eagles, Peregrine Falcons, Golden Eagles etc. at your leisure. The growing community of citizen birders has impacted the knowledge of avian development and behaviour considerably. We are, indeed, continuing to learn every day. Advances in satellite transmitters means that birds can now be studied after leaving the nest providing much information about foraging, distance from natal nest to establishing their own territory, etc. This blog today is general and non-scientific in its terminology.

Many look at the development of Bald Eagles through three stages: structural growth, feather growth; and behavioural growth. Others attempt to combine feather growth with behaviour and structural development into weekly goals. In fact, I have pondered over this blog and how to approach it for several days because there are different factors that impact development. One of those is gender. There are also studies that have shown that the levels of salt in the diet impact growth while others have examined the amount and quality of prey. We know from studying Red Tail Hawks that if you double the amount of prey and the eyases remain in the nest for several days beyond the average, they are better equipped to fly and hunt. Their overall condition is much stronger. For the purposes of our discussion, I have used evidence from the NEFL Bald Eagle nest in 2021 and the SWFL Bald Eagle nest in 2021 and 2017 (E9). There is one eaglet on the NE nest and two on the SW nest in 2021. The parents on the NE Florida nest are Samson and Gabrielle. Samson was born on this nest on 23 December 2013. He is a little over seven years old. We do not know the age of Gabrielle. At the SW nest, Harriet is in her mid-twenties and M15 is 11 years old. Both nests are located within close proximity to a city – Fort Myers and St Augustine. The Fort Myers nest is unique in that the D Pritchett family has a working farm on the land where the nest is located. They also stock a pond in close proximity to the nest specifically for the eagles. This means that there is always food available. Still, the parents bring in road kill as well as fish from the pond. The NE nest does not have this advantage but nest observations reveal that there is an abundance of food although the variety might not be the same as the SW nest.

Both E17 and E18 were born on 23 January 2021. N24 was born on 8 February.

The first week of their lives, eaglets are covered with fuzzy down. The proper term is natal down. They can sit up but it is difficult to support their heads and focus. You can see the white dot indicating the egg tooth. This will disappear later. They use the egg tooth to break through the thick shell. This is often called the ‘bobble head’ phase. Their heads are big and they do not yet have the neck strength to keep them upright at all times. Their eyes are adjusting to focus. Sibling rivalry might already have started. As the days progress, the eaglets will get the strength to hold up their head and balance it. They will also be able to focus with their eyes so they do not look like they are using their beak like a dart but with a moving target (often their sibling). While the bobble head stage is very cute, it is often a relief when the eaglets are more stable.

SWFL nest 2021. Sibling rivalry began immediately. E17 is on the right and is only two hours older than the twin, E18. This rivalry persists but has dissipated to being only occasional and directly related to feeding.
The egg tooth is clearly present on the eaglet to the left.

By week two, the eaglets will be observed crawling out of the nest bowl. They are not walking. They are crawling. N24 is using its feet and wings to help it get out of the nest cup and up to the pantry. It is five days old! Food is a great motivator! Samson has the little one ‘working’ for its dinner. This helps to strengthen its wings and legs. In the Captiva Florida Eagle nest, Peace climbed out of the nest bowl towards the food on day 2. The inclines of both nests are different. The parents present the eaglets with challenges to help them develop their strength such as stretching their necks, grabbing and holding food, working their legs and wings. It’s like having your own personal trainer!

N24 crawling out of the nest cup on 13 February 2021, 5 days old

The beak will begin to grow and the little ones should begin shooting the ‘ps’ out of the nest bowl by the end of week one or beginning of week two.

N24 doing a great pose to get that PS clear of the nest. Watch out mom!

The eaglets are more observant of their world. They will have doubled in size from the day they hatched and their eyes and beak continue to develop. You will begin to notice that pin feathers are growing in at their wing tips. They will start to stand keeping their balance with these wing tips.

N24 12 days old. Notice the feathers coming in on the wing tip (left side)

More feathers begin to appear on the shoulders and the back and the wing feathers are getting longer as the days progress. They are starting to wing flap and they will try picking up food.

N24 wing flapping, 12 days old

N24 is twelve days old in the picture above and the one below. In the one below, you can also see the pin feathers right at the tip of the wing starting to come in. N24 is also standing for several seconds, getting its balance, and flapping those wings.

N24, 12 days old. Wing flapping.

During the third and fourth week, a pattern of accelerated feedings and growth begins. Head and chest are still showing signs of some fluffy down but more dark feathers are starting to emerge.

E17, SWFL Nest, Age 31 days

The eaglets are actively preening those feathers to help condition them as well as to help stop what some say is an itching as the feathers grow in. There is more wing flapping and the eaglets stand with confidence and stability. During this time you will see attempts at standing and walking. They begin to make some effort at self feeding. They are eating much more at each feeding often lunging at the parent to take the food out of their beak. Many observers say that their crops appear like they could burst! These big feedings often result in the eaglets sleeping immediately after a feeding. This is a ‘food coma’. The enlarged crops are extra storage spaces where food is held before being ‘dropped’ to the stomach. Sometimes people call this accelerated growth period the ‘clown feet’ era because the feet seem to grow way out of proportion to the rest of their body. They will also cast pellets. Pellets are food that is undigested such as fur and bones. Pellets are compressed into a hard shape and regurgitated. This often involves coughing and sometimes the eaglets appear not to want to eat the day the pellet is cast. This level of peak energy demands appears to begin to wane after about five to six weeks.

E18 has its wings dropped while sitting (eaglet on left). Crop is full. 23 February 2021.

Beginning around week five to eight, the eaglets often sit with their wings drooping (getting heavy). Hopping and flapping wings occurs more often. They are very interested in what is happening outside the nest. By the end of this period, they will begin to have more of their juvenile plumage colouration. They will be able to hold food and tear bits. They will begin to mantle food. Mantling is the covering of food with the wings in order to have the prey item to themselves. They will stand for longer periods of time and are able to walk easily by the end of the period.

From week nine to fledging. The feathers will become more defined over their entire body and they will stand for longer periods of time upright. They can stand easily on one leg. The hopping, jumping, and flapping of wings accelerates. They are self-feeding but the parents will also continue to feed them. They will now spend their nights sleeping upright like their parents with their head tucked under their wing. They can easily perch on the edge or rim of the nest and will be branching, hopping up to a branch and back down into the nest. Branching tends to occur from seven to ten days before fledging, generally.

Juvenile feathers are not all in. E9, 2017.
E9 Branching, 2017.
E9 trying out a thinner branch, 2017.

It is always exciting to see the eaglet hatch and sad when they fledge. Unless there is a transmitter or bands, they fledge and there whereabouts often goes unknown. Once they are wholly independent of their parents, the juveniles need to find their own territory and source of prey. Sadly, fifty percent of all first year eaglets perish while ninety percent of all year two eaglets tend to survive. The average age of maturity for Bald Eagles is five to six years although there is a young sub-adult male who is incubating his first eggs with his mate in Minnesota right now.

Thank you so much for joining me today. Stay safe. Be well.

Thank you to the Eagle streaming cams at NEFL and SWFL as well as the D Pritchett family. The scaps came from their streams.