Fun with Bonnie and Clyde

Great Horned Owls (GHOW) are found all across North America – literally, they exist everywhere from the hot swampy areas of Florida to the deserts of the Southwest to the prairies and mountains of Canada. There is currently no concern for them in terms of declining populations. Just because there is no decline does not mean that the owls should not be monitored. Monitoring means that researchers can see when a decline does happen and they can ask why.

The setting sun on Bonnie.

In the 1970s many bird populations were wiped out due to the use of DDT. DDT was a pesticide and it was banned in 1972 after Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring in 1962 exposing the issues. It took a decade for change to happen but it did happen.

So the question then is, why in 2014 were birds dying in Michigan with levels of DDT poison so high in their brains that no one could believe the readings? Songbirds such as Robins, European Starlings, and bluebirds were dropping dead in people’s yards. DDT was not only found in the brains of the dead birds in enormous concentrations but it was also found in the worms that the birds ate. A professor at the University of Michigan looking into the phenomena found that the concentrations ranged from 155 to 1043 parts per million with the average being 552. The threshold for death is 30 parts per million. DDT persists in the soil and in the rivers. It thins the eggs of birds so that they break and cannot be incubated. It makes the birds sick and it is not a quick death but a slow painful one. The authorities in Michigan found that the Velsicol Chemical Corporation was responsible. Under their old name, Michigan Chemical, they manufactured pesticides. It is the area around their old plant where the soil, in 2014, was still saturated with the poison.

Today, the raptors – not the seed eating birds – have issues with various types of designer poisons for mice and rats. They are commonly called Rodenticides. In the United States, the name of one of the biggest companies manufacturing this poison is deConn. And, like when we want a tissue for a runny nose, many will ask for a ‘Kleenex’. Owls eat a lot of mice and rats. In fact, they are the absolute best and cheapest way to rid an area of these rodents. Someone could start a company, ‘Hire an Owl’.

And speaking of owls and mice, I have some great shots of Bonnie and Clyde for you tonight. And I have the answer to two questions sent to me by e-mail. I will incorporate those in the text. Thank you to those who wrote and asked – always happy to answer if I can or to help find the answer.

First of all, owls are noctural but like all other raptors they actually do a lot of hunting right at dusk and dawn. Owls do not see colour very well because nature provided them with sensitive dark-light rod cells instead of ones for differentiating colour. During the day, Clyde will sleep just like Bonnie, if she can. Clyde will not bring food to Bonnie during the bright light of day. But you might expect him to come, if prey is plentiful, right after dusk. Let us hope that none of the mice or rats that Clyde brings Bonnie have eaten any pesticides.

Dusk was at 6:39 pm in Newton, Kansas where the Bald Eagle Nest that Bonnie and Clyde are using is located. Between 6:55 and 8:04 pm, Bonnie made three trips off the nest. The first was at 6:55. She raises her head. Did she hear Clyde? She leaves the nest and returns at 7:03. That was eight minutes. She might have needed a bathroom break and she might have had something to eat.

At 7:21, we can see Clyde’s eyes. Clyde lands on a branch. Bonnie hears him.

Bonnie gets up. Clyde has brought her a mouse!

They do a quick exchange.

And Bonnie is back on the nest. It took a whole two minutes.

Bonnie takes another very short break from 7:57 to 8:04. Just like the first time she left this evening, the camera is fixed on the next so we cannot see what happens outside the frame. The temperature has really warmed up from the frigid minus degrees. It is 29 degrees F. The hunting might be a lot better because the mice will not be hunkered down with the cold. They will also be out looking for food while Clyde is looking for them!

Those beautiful big owl eyes are the reason that Clyde will be his busiest hunting within two hours of dusk and two hours of dawn. It is quite possible then that all three of Bonnie’s departures after dusk had to do with food deliveries and bathroom breaks together.

It is dawn, 6:27 am at the nest and Clyde has brought in his last mouse for the night. He arrives on his ‘regular’ branch. You should be able to see the mouse hanging out of his beak.

The pair have this all worked out. Bonnie and Clyde do some hoots and she flies up to the upper branch on the left.

Bonnie then flies up to grab the mouse from Clyde and within a blink that mouse becomes owl and she is back on her nest in two minutes. This couple is extremely efficient!

Besides hunting, Clyde’s other duty is to protect the territory of the nest and Bonnie. He will not be far away!

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Just a couple of quick observations for today and then something special at the end.

The little eaglets on the Southwest Florida nest at Fort Myers, E17 and E18 are itchy. E18 was preening 17 and then they both wake up in the night and start preening. You will see that their flight feathers are just starting to come in. (Note: The dark object is a piece of an armoured fish). Here are a few images of these two itchy characters:

E17 is preening E18
Flight and pin feathers make eagles itchy.

Over at the other eagle nest in NE Florida at St Augustine, little NE24 is getting its pin feathers, too. Sometimes these are called ‘blood’ feathers because they are filled with blood while they are growing. Some of you might remember that Hope, the oldest eaglet on Connie and Joe’s nest at Captiva, Florida died because she broke a blood feather and bled out. That was because of the rodenticide in the prey she had been fed. So blood feathers. Our new words for the day!

I am absolutely in love with this little eaglet. Maybe because it is all alone on that big nest without any siblings. But, at the same time, that is such a plus. There is no anxiety watching this nest. Gabby and Samson do a fine job taking care of this little one. And its eyes cleared up all on its own.

The soft glow of dusk is filtering through the trees in the swamp. NE24 has a nice crop before bed. You can see that the feathers are changing colour from white to grey. You can also see the pin feathers just starting to come in. Poor thing. It will not only have to deal with all those mosquitoes but now these things coming in!

Now for something just a little special. Most Bald Eagles do not start breeding until they are much older than five years even though they can at four to five years. In a nest in Minnesota supervised by the Department of Natural Resources, a four year old Bald Eagle male (called a sub adult) is going to get to see his first egg for the very first time. His beak is still a brown or amber colour instead of the bright yellow and he still retains some of the brown feathers mixed with the white on his head. It is thirteen minutes long – and no, he is not dirty. He is just a youngster. His eyes have not gotten light yet either. Enjoy!

Thank you again for joining with me to learn about the birds we all love so much. It is my pleasure to share them with you. Tomorrow we best check in on some Royal Albatross and what their satellite trackers are showing and we will also try and find Solly ——- and, of course, see what Bonnie and Clyde are up to. The weather patterns are shifting again and I am sad to say that the Bald Eagle Nest in New Jersey is once again covered with snow. This mom with three eggs under her never seems to catch a break.

Thank you to the streaming cams of Derek the Farmer, Duke Farms, SWFL Eagle Cam and D Pritchett Real Estate, NEFL Eagle Cam, and to Lady Hawk for making that great video of our young eagle dad.

Fishing line, again

The area around Big Bear where Bald Eagles Jackie and Shadow have their nest could not be more picturesque. Beautiful mountains, trees, clear lakes, and winding roads.

For all its local beauty, it has been a very sad but, hopefully, promising season for the two.

The single egg that you see on the nest (image below) is the fourth egg that Jackie has laid this season. She originally laid three eggs. Two were stolen by ravens and the third broke. The eagles left the nest despondent and no one knew if they would try again – but they did! The first egg of their second season was laid on 8 February. Eggs are laid about three days apart so if there is to be a second, we should see it today or tomorrow. Remember that laying eggs depletes the female of much needed calcium. She needs to be in good health to try producing this many eggs close together.

Last night, Shadow brought Jackie a nice juicy coot. A coot, if you are unfamiliar, is not a fish but a medium sized water bird that is black. And, on this point, please when your friends tell you that Bald Eagles only eat fish, correct them politely! However, that coot had eaten fishing line and when Jackie ate the coot, she ate the fishing line. She was in great distress – heaving hard= and was finally able to throw that line up with her dinner. Then, of course, the fishing line is on the nest and Jackie gets it tangled around her leg. As of 11 am, 11 February it appears that Shadow was able to remove the line and take it off the nest. There is no sight of it. My goodness this pair have had what we can only call terrible luck. Let us hope that is over.

Shadow brings Jackie a coot for dinner. Egg number 4. Taken from Big Bear Streaming Cam.

Right now absolutely everything is fine.

Jackie on the nest 11 February. Taken from BigBear Streaming Cam.

In the post today was the latest edition of The Journal of Raptor Research. And there, just waiting for me to read it, is an article titled ‘Hospital Admissions of Australian Coastal Raptors Show Fishing Equipment Entanglement is an important threat’. Could it be more timely? Glancing at the article it indicates that the leading cause of population decline of White Bellied Sea Eagles and Osprey is loss of habitat, they also note vehicle collisions, power line electrocutions, window strike especially with the building of commercial and domestic buildings that are mainly glass, pesticides and now fishing equipment. With an increase in recreational fishing, the submissions of coastal seabirds is growing.

My dad was a recreational fisherman in Oklahoma fishing at the large lake separating Oklahoma and Texas, Lake Texhoma. I grew up with him and his friend, Elmer (does anyone name their child Elmer anymore?) and their catfish challenges. I often had to sit on the fish to prove their size! They won contests for catching the largest catfish, sometimes as much ninety pounds. The average was about seventy pounds.

My dad taught my children to fish before they were out of nappies. My oldest loves to fish and lives in the Caribbean where he can go out to sea or fish from shore. He is known for travelling around the world to visit his friends fishing in Japan, around Bangkok with his buddy Tapp, with his friends in Eastern Malaysia and in the Maldives. He is one of the ones who help to clean up the beaches on the island so he is readily aware of the mess that fishing line, nets, and hooks can cause. My grandson walks a few blocks from his house to fish off the shore of the Assiniboine River.

I grew up with people that fished. Now we all know the impact that those hooks and lines can have. It was only a month ago that CROW had to go up to the Captiva Bald Eagle nest and take a piece of monofilament from aroud little Peace. All of the fishing equipment needs to be non-toxic. Years ago they developed some line that was supposed to be unbreakable. Really? All I understood was that there were problems and a lot of fishers refused to use it. So here we are today. Who will be the person who does research and comes up with a kind of dissolving fishing line for recreational fishers? And how can we go about clearing the shores of our lakes, rivers, and oceans of fishing equipment tangled up in the trees and shrubs? This whole thing has plagued me now for several months. Does anyone know of a solution? I know that not everyone is prepared to stop fishing like my husband has. He did it for the birds and just possibly so I wasn’t going around the house in my hawk like voice screaming about it!! By the way, did you know that in movies and commercials with eagles they use the voice of the Red Tail Hawk? Seriously. They sound so much more ‘like an eagle’ than an eagle! Who ever would have thought?!

These are really short clips. Have a listen. Here is the little chatter of the Bald Eagle:

And here is the cry of the Red Tail Hawk:

Used for scary movies!

I promised to bring you updates Solly, the Eastern Osprey female with the satellite tracker. Remember she was born at Port Lincoln on a barge. She is 144 days old today. Solly was fitted with a transmitter and already she has given researchers much to think about. Last week she had flown inland and she had travelled more than 200 kilometres from her natal nest. And that evening we knew that she was at Streaky Bay. There was even a photo of her along the shore. Well, Solly still likes Streaky Bay. Here are the latest tracking images from yesterday (11 February in Australia time zone).

Solly was even captured in photographs down by the Bay and at the Dragon Club Boat Centre. Isn’t she wonderful? I can’t tell you how comforting it is to find out they are alive. So many die. Tears just roll down my cheeks.

She looks pretty happy hanging out with the pelicans. There are so few Osprey in Australia that maybe Solly has found her forever home. Unlike the tracker put on the Royal Cam Albatross, LGK and LGL, Solly’s transmitter will last as long as the Velcro webbing does. They are hoping for seven years. We will check in on her next week to see if she has decided to stay – or go. It is reasonable that if there is no competition from other Ospreys, Solly might have this big territory to herself. The fishing must be good. She looks healthy and well. Believe me, if there wasn’t good fishing, Solly would be out of there!

This afternoon in Florida, both the NEFL Eagle Nest of Gabby and Samson were on alert as was Harriet and M15 at the SWFL Eagle Nest. Intruders are another serious danger to the eagles and with the growth in the Bald Eagle population and the decline in the number of large trees for nesting, youngsters are looking for a home.

Gabby (on the nest) and Samson (on the branch) protect their territory and E24. NEFL Streaming Cam.
Harriet (closest) and M15 (on far end) protect their territory and E17 and E18.

Meanwhile updates show that there is now more snow on the Bald Eagle nest at Duke Farms in Hillsborough, New Jersey with more to fall over the coming days.

Duke Farms Eagle Cam, 10 February 2021.

Lime Green Lime (LGL) has returned to Taiaroa Head to replace her mate, Lime Green Black (LGK) so that he can go feeding. We will maybe get to see his transmitter results. What Lime Green Lime doesn’t know is that she will also be fitted with a transmitter today. Then for a year we will be able to see where they travel, like Solly.

Lime Green Lime and baby, 12 February 2021. Cornell and NZ DOC cams.

The transmitter is installed! And that little one is sure growing. Now we will be able to find out how far LGL and LGK go to fish.

It’s bitterly cold again. Wildlife is struggling in different parts of the world due to too much cold or too much heat. All of the little ones have gone to bed with full crops. Bald Eagles are alert and protecting their nests.

Thank you for joining me today. I didn’t expect to write such a long second blog until the issue of the fishing equipment presented itself again. Stay warm or cool wherever you are. See you tomorrow!

Thank you to the streaming cams at NEFL, SWFL, Big Bear, and Taiaroa Head.

What a winter storm!

What do you do if you are a Bald Eagle and you arrive at the nest to see your mate who is incubating three eggs buried by snow? Well, that is precisely what happened at Duke Farms in Hillsborough, New Jersey yesterday during that terrible nor’easter that hit the region.

At times, during the big storm, you could see the female’s head but there were other times when she was entirely buried or so it seemed. The snow was so heavily and blowing so fiercely.

I wonder if the warmth of her head kept the space open from the snow or if the female eagle tossed her head and opened up a breathing spot?

Mom is buried under the snow incubating eggs. Image courtesy of Duke Farms Eagle Cam.

By the time the male arrives the female has been entirely covered. He was calling to her and she raised her neck. Then the male began to use the beak that he normally feeds his babies with and catches prey to dig his mate out.

Dad chipping away at the snow. Image courtesy of Duke Farms Eagle Cam.

It wasn’t long before he had cleared enough snow that the female could stand up! You can see on the right side just how much snow had accumulated on the female and her three eggs. Speaking of three eggs, Bald Eagles normally only lay 2 eggs. When food is plentiful and the female is in good health, there might be three eggs. Many times, only two hatch.

Dad helping to free Mom. Image courtesy of Duke Farms Eagle Cam.

Oh, it was magnificent. The female eagle sort of jumped backwards out of the nest and began flapping her wings wildly to get rid of the snow. I did think that she was going to push her mate off of the eighty foot tall Sycamore tree.

In the image below you can just barely see the eggs under the snow that has slid onto the nest cup.

Mom is uncovered but where are the eggs? Image courtesy of Duke Farms Eagle Cam.

Some of the snow melted quickly. As you can see the female is still on the left hand side while the male has moved to the right. He is going to take a turn keeping the eggs warm while she has a wee break.

You can see the eggs! Image courtesy of Duke Farms Eagle Cam.

It was fascinating to watch the male eagle kind of fly jump back by his mate and then get on the eggs.

Under normal conditions the eagles do not move the snow off of the eggs. In this instance, it has fallen from the sides onto the egg cup. The parents simply leave whatever snow is on the eggs. The warmth of their bodies will soon cause it to melt and the surface of the eggs will dry. The eagles are being very protective of the coating on the egg so as not to damage the pores that allow air in to the developing eaglet.

Dad taking his place on the eggs. Image courtesy of Duke Farms Eagle Cam.

There was more snow during the night. Our poor mama is covered again but this time we can see her!

Mother Eagle literally buried in snow. Image courtesy of Duke Farms Eagle Cam.

By morning, the snow storm has passed and we can get a good look at the nest.

Seeing these birds just makes me ache. I want to bring them all inside and keep them warm or at least send in warming blankets for them. How dedicated these couples are!

The snow remains on the eagle aerie at Duke Farms. Image courtesy of Duke Farms Eagle Cam.

I have watched the little birds, like the Chipping Sparrows, make their nests in my garden and then the Grackles and I understand that Peregrine Falcons lay their eggs on gravel or sand or in a scrape box. But I didn’t know that much about Bald Eagle nests. Do you? If not, you can learn along with me.

Bald eagle’s large nest is called an aerie. Apparently Bald Eagle aeries, on average, are about five feet wide and three feet deep. OK. Stop. I thought how could they get their eggs if they were that far down in the nest! Silly me. Of course, it is the distance from the first stick to the top of the nest. The nest cup ranges from 30 to 40 centimetres (12 to 16 inches) in width. The depth seems to vary a lot. Many were surprised at how deep the cup was at Harriet and M15’s nest. It seems that the nest cup range is from about 10 centimetres (4 inches) to as much as as 30 centimetres (a foot) deep.

It is easy to see that nest cup ‘where the eaglets are supposed to stay’ in this image of E17 and E18 being fed by Harriet. I say that because both Hope and Peace crawled out of their nest cavity at two days old. They were so healthy. So sad to lose those two eaglets at Captiva to poisons. Hopefully the local campaign on the radio, television, and newspaper as well as flyers will get people to find other methods to kill rodents including hawks and owls!! Birds do better.

E17 and E18 getting fed in the nest cup. Image courtesy of SWFL Eagle Cam and D. Pritchett.

Bald Eagles are known to build the largest nests of any bird in North America. The males and females bring in new sticks to add structure along with other nesting materials to make the nest soft. Harriet and M15 at the SWFL nest in Fort Myers are fond of Spanish Moss to line their nest. You can see it in the image above. Just a few kilometres away on the Captiva Nest, Joe and Harriet use leaves. Each mated pair is different depending on what is available and what they like.

The largest Bald Eagle nest ever discovered was in St. Petersburg, Florida, in 1963. It was 2.9 metres wide (9.6″) and and 6 metres deep (20 feet). It weighed more than two metric tonnes (4409 lbs). The bald eagle builds the largest nest of any North American bird, up to 13 feet deep, 8.2 feet wide, and 1.1 tons in weight. If you look at images, you will generally see that the Bald Eagles, like the Osprey, construct their aeries near rivers, coastlines, or lakes where there is enough food for them and their little ones. The pair of eagles that are at Duke Farms hunt in the Raritan River.

The nest that you see at Duke Farms was rebuilt after Hurricane Sandy destroyed the top half of the tree the pair had their nest in. That was November 2012. Both eagles worked hard to construct a new aerie. They brought in sticks and you will notice how big that nest has gotten in fourteen years! Let us hope that they do not have to ever rebuild again.

And now it is time to bring you up to date on one of the nests we are watching together. What is happening with Harriet and M15’s little eaglets with the eye infection? And when will they get to go home? CROW says they are eating ferociously. Neither leave a drop of quail or rat! And they are putting on weight. And this morning I spotted a slight tinge of black or charcoal coming over them. It is their juvenile colours starting to break through! My goodness, these little eaglets grow up so fast.

In the picture below, the little eaglet is getting an injection of antibiotics. Their eyes are inproving and their appetites are good but the infection is still present. The vets do not want to send the eaglets back to Harriet and M15 til it is completely gone. Will keep you posted every day about their progress.

Eaglets get injection at meal time. Image courtesy of CROW.

Have a peek. Look at all that dark plumage coming in and if you look at the end of their beaks you will notice that the egg tooth is almost gone. It is that little white dot. When they arrived at the clinic, it was much bigger. Also their necks are getting longer too! They will be able to grab that fish and rabbit from their parents easier now. But I wonder if they will want the nice quail they have been eating?

Eaglets preparing to be weighted. Image courtesy of CROW

Oh, their eyes look so much better. Thank goodness that there are people who can muster the resources to take care of these beautiful eagles. Thank you CROW!

Thank you for joining me today. Tomorrow I will bring you an update on the eaglets, some images of the change over with the Albatross, and we will see what is happening elsewhere in the world of birds.