Daisy, more than a duck

After the Ravens had eaten or taken her eggs, Daisy was confused. She ate bits of shell, cleaned up some of the down, looked like she was digging a hole to the bottom of the tree trying to find her eggs, and then filled the nest cup and flew away. Everyone thought that was the last anyone would see of our little Daisy. But, no. She returned to the nest at 20:19, just after sunset. She stayed until 22:46:22. She has not returned.

Daisy is more than a Pacific Black Duck. She is more than a little duck that happened upon a huge nest in the forest and decided to lay her eggs there. Daisy is more than the little duck that thwarted and confused the big White-Bellied Sea Eagles.

Daisy laid her eggs at the beginning of January. Before that there had been tremendous sadness and angst. Just about six weeks earlier, the people who watched the two little eaglets, WBSE 25 and 26, said goodbye to ’26’. Shortly after 26 was born, it appeared that the tiny little fluff ball had a problem with its right leg. No one ever believed that 26 would be able to stand, or walk, or feed itself, or fly, or land on a branch, or fledge. But 26 did it all, in great pain, with feet whose coverings had been torn off in places. Six days after 26 fledged, she returned to the natal nest. Her parents cared for her and she rested and ate. Being in the forest had been traumatizing. One day, unexpectedly, 26 flew out of the nest over to the camera tree where she was harassed by the Pied Currawong. A Magpie even came to help 26 fend them off but, in the end, they chased 26 out of the forest. A storm was coming that night and the next day 26 was discovered on the balcony of a condo 22 stories up in Homebush Bay. She was about a kilometre from the nest. Everyone was so pleased when the wildlife rehabbers, WIRES, were called to evaluate her condition. They were the group that helped the koalas during the fires the year before. We all believed that 26 would get the veterinary care that we had hoped would come. Unfortunately, the leg was broken and it had healed poorly. 26 was in great agony and she was euthanized. It broke everyone’s heart.

The photo below is one of the last images of 26. The Magpie has come to help 26 keep the Pied Currawong away.

Sun pours over WBSE 26 in the last image of her in the forest.

I don’t think that we had even gotten over the numbness of 26’s death when one of our dear friends was diagnosed with terminal cancer. It was this lovely woman who kept us laughing and brought sunshine into our lives. Phyllis was shattered with the death of 26.

Not long after a little duck came into all of our lives. It could not have been a more perfect time. Daisy offered a much needed diversion for Phyllis and all of us. Many felt that Daisy was ‘an angel’. Phyllis took over the ‘Duck’ chat on the ‘Duck camera’ and answered all of our questions. She was on ‘chat’ first thing in the morning to greet everyone and answer questions, and late at night. Tonight, Phyllis is gutted as so many others are. Daisy represented not just a diversion for Phyllis but also something more. There was an innocence about the little duck having her nest on the big sea eagle’s. In a way she washed away the ugliness of the pandemic and gave everyone something to look forward to: Daisy and her eggs had lived another day. We began to make up stories about how we would assist Daisy and the ducklings to the ground, how they might be escorted through the forest to safety at the river. And our dear friend, gr8lakes even thought that Daisy might want some toys for her babies. There was a lot of fun and a whole bunch of joking. That little duck brought such joy.

Phyllis wrote a poem for Daisy:

Our dear Daisy Duck , ever so sweet

Picking out her lovely penthouse suite

Maybe not the best idea she ever had

Because lurking nearby were Lady and Dad

Patiently we waited for ducklings to appear

But Nature brought us all to tears

Daisy I’m sure will have another clutch

I hope she knows we loved her ever so much

For some, the death of 26 was just the beginning of a long line of sadness. The two lovely eaglets born at the Captiva Bald Eagle nest died. A necropsy is being performed but the cause is most likely to be rodenticide. It was, of course, entirely preventable. This rat poison that kills more than rats and eagles kills family pets and other animals. It should be banned. There are other actually more effective ways to get rid of rodents including bringing in hawks and owls. The eaglets were called Hope and Peace. Peace had a piece of fishing line wrapped around her that had a hook. It must have been inside one of the fish that the parents brought in to feed their babies. That line was seen on camera, reported, and the wildlife rehabbers had permission to go to the eaglet and remove it. But, just about that same time, little Peace began to fail. And she died. Eleven days later, Hope, who was a big strapping eaglet flapping her wings one morning, died that afternoon from a broken blood feather. The blood did not coagulate because something Hope had eaten had rodenticide in its system. The father, Joe, removed the body of Peace after a few days of mourning. When Hope died, the mother, Connie, stood over her body poking her to see if there was any life at all. The parents stayed on the nest looking down at their child in complete disbelief and confusion. The wildlife rehabbers removed the body of Hope to find out what had happened. There is now a major campaign to ban rodenticide and to update some archaic wildlife laws that call for a 24 hour wait time to get help for wildlife in danger. That law was written in the 1940s. If passed, the campaigners would like it to be called Hope’s Law.

The image below shoes Hope with her mother looking out over their territory. Hope was getting her juvenile brown colouring. This picture was taken the day before she died.

Hope looks up to her mother, Connie.
Hope spreading her wings and jumping around.

Hope was jumping around and testing her wings only a few hours before she bled to death.

Ever wonder if birds mourn? Many of you know about Ravens and Crows but Bald Eagles do, too.

Connie stands over the body of Hope as Joe looks out to their territory.

As this was happening in Florida, two other eaglets in Texas died of what also appears to be rodenticide poisoning. And just today, one of the most famous Bald Eagle couples, Harriet and M15, in Fort Myers, Florida, had their two eaglets removed by CROW (the wildlife rehabbers) because of their crusted eyes. Swabs have been taken and the eyes have been cleaned. E 17 and E18 were also given antibiotics and fed. They will remain in the care of CROW until the test results return. In the meantime all attention will go towards getting them back with their distraught parents as soon as possible.

E17 ad E18 have eye problems
Harriet and M15 wonder where their eaglets have gone.

Wild life rehabbers understand that the parents will accept their babies up to eleven days. Then it is very tricky. This year we watched Diamond and Xavier a pair of mated Peregrine Falcons look for their Izzi after he had hit a window in early flying lessons and was taken into care. The Australian researcher returned Izzi to the scrape box after his being away for five days for him to fledge again. Xavier and Diamond were joyous and accepted him immediately.

Izzy still brings joy to everyone who watch him. Photo courtesy of Cilla Kinross.

Three people that I know warned me that I had to have a really thick skin if I wanted to get involved with my beloved Red Tail Hawks. Later, when another friend was too upset when one of the juvenile red tails from Ithaca died because she flew into a window on one of the Cornell campus buildings, I told her, “Don’t get said, get mad. And do something about it”. That death of a gorgeous healthy female was entirely preventable. The building is near to the road and the place where the juveniles learn to fly that J1 broke her neck. It is time that all public buildings and corporate skyscrapers are required to have special glass to prevent bird strike. Mandate it on all new builds and get the owners of the other buildings to come into the programme with incentives.

J1 looking up at her mother, Big Red, on Day 1
J1 in the front and J3 with his dark eyes look as J2 accidentally fledges from the light box.

Daisy gave everyone hope. 2020 was a difficult year for the entire world and we closed it with the anticipation that life in 2021 might be better for everyone. There are vaccines for the pandemic that might work but closer to home, people put their faith in a little duck and some baby eaglets. All of the birds have taught us a lot but one thing we all know that life is not to be taken for granted. Hold on to it, every minute because it can slip away as quickly as you can snap your finger.

Day 6 of incubation, updated

Daisy returned to her nest at 17:50 after spending most of the day away. If you are following the sage of this little Pacific Black Duck, you will know that yesterday, ‘Dad’ the White Bellied Sea Eagle owner of the nest arrived at dawn and stayed for some six hours before departing. During that time he did mess up a little of the down but, for the majority of the time, he stood sentry duty. Dad would, of course, really like to catch the bird that has violated his territory! Because Daisy had to leave so quickly, she was unable to cover her nest. A couple of hours after Dad departed, a Pied Currawong arrived at the nest and tried to eat an egg. Unable to do so, that bird threw a bit of a fit tearing the down from around Daisy’s carefully created nest and throwing it over the rim of the sea eagle nest. It was warm in Sydney yesterday and the sun shone on the nest for extended periods. Someone also told me that because of the way the sea eagle nests are constructed they hold the heat much better than ordinary nests. Let us hope so and also that the sun’s heat did not do any damage. Daisy is brooding seven eggs. They should be ready to hatch in about three weeks.

After all of the hassles yesterday, it was nice when Dad Sea Eagle did not show up at dawn! As a result, despite the wild gusts of wind exceeding 26 km an hour on the nest, Daisy was able to relax and nap.

Daisy rests but keeps alert to anyone approaching her nest.
Daisy resting with her bill tucked in behind her wing.

Daisy has had a quiet day on the nest so far. It is day six of her brooding. She has lost approximately half her weight laying her eggs and I understand that she has pulled half her down out to line the nest. Raising little ones takes its toll on mothers. Some bulk themselves up before laying their eggs. Again, I was told recently that the birds use up a lot of their calcium stores for the egg shells.

This reminds me about bird seed at your feeders for winter. You should be feeding the birds the black oil sunflower seeds. It helps give them fat to burn during the winter. It wouldn’t hurt to get a bird seed with added calcium and put it in your feeders several months prior to breeding in your area. This will help the female build up her calcium stores and help with the thickness of the eggs. That protects them from being broken easily. Some people crush the shells of the eggs they have eaten. But know that if you want to do that you need to wash the shells thoroughly to get rid of any bacteria from the chickens who laid them. Then you place them in a shallow pan and bake them at 325 degrees F for 20 minutes. You could save up a bunch and bake them the next time you used your oven.

A close up of the beautiful nest made of Daisy’s down and plant material from the sea eagle nest.

Daisy started moving plant material and leaves toward her nest around 1pm. She left the nest at 13:22 to go and forage near the Parramatta River that runs through Hornbush Bay, Australia. It is unclear whether or not she will return in a couple of hours or if she will wait as dusk begins to arrive. The last time she left volunatarily to forage at mid-afternoon, she returned and twenty minutes later, Dad Sea Eagle showed up and she has to fly away and wait until dusk to return.

Daisy carefully covered her nest with down before leaving to forage.
Daisy voluntarily left the nest to forage and carefully concealed her nest.

One thing that is worrisome is that there are ravens about today. They love eggs and are very smart. Daisy did a good job of covering her nest today. Hopefully they will not find it!

I also want to thank the individual who wrote to tell me about a nest in Poland. A Mallard laid its eggs in an eagle nest. They successfully hatched! Isn’t that wonderful? I wonder if it was an unoccupied nest? The individual told me that the Mallard did not have any of the hassles that our Daisy is having trying to brood her eggs. The story from Poland gave me hope!

QUICK UPDATE: Daisy returned to her nest at 15:51 without incident. She was cautious, listening for anyone who might be around or who might have followed her. A very wise woman said today that all of the creatures in the forest would be curious about Daisy because she normally doesn’t live there. She lives on the water. Of course. Let’s just hope that curiosity is all that is going on!

Daisy returns to the her nest after foraging.
Daisy listens carefully for sounds in the forest before starting to brood.
After checking that no one is around, Daisy finally lays on her nest cup.

And then a Currawong arrived!

If it wasn’t enough that the WBSE ‘Dad’ decided that he would keep vigil over his nest and Daisy’s eggs all morning, the Currawong that had been pestering Dad returned later when the eggs were exposed and no one was home!

The Pied Currawong is a nuisance to the WBSE. They dive at them especially when they have a nest in the area but, sadly, they also chase after the young eaglets and often send them out of the forest before they are really mature enough to leave.

At 14:55 a ‘Curra’ came on to the nest. It saw the egg that Dad had rolled out and attempted to eat it. It rolled it around in the nest but to no avail. The egg did not fit in its beak and, perhaps, because it was young, it did not know just to beat and break the ones in the nest.

But that Curra threw a hissy fit because of it! It took all of the down it could find and threw that over the rim of the big nest and then went and pulled the down that Daisy has so beautifully built her egg cup with and threw it over the rim. And then it left, in a big puff.

Daisy finally returns to the nest at 17:51. Within a few minutes she has rolled her egg back into the nest cup and has begun pulling leaves once again over to help insulate her eggs. At the time of this writing I do not know if she has enough down left on her breast to pull and add some more to the nest. The old pieces are too full of twigs and leaves to be of use to the duck.

It is nearly dawn in Australia and Daisy remains quietly incubating her eggs. The sun will rise around 6:05 and that is the time that the WBSE usually arrive to check their nest for its ‘illegal’ occupant.

As dawn breaks, Daisy awaits another day. The little duck who has faced such adversity continues to brood her eggs. No one knows whether or not the heat from the sun will have kept the eggs warm enough for them to hatch. Indeed, no one knows if the eggs are even fertile. But there is a single male down by the canal that Daisy joins when she is foraging. And that male came with her to make a hole in this big sea eagle nest around December 11, 2020. Hopefully they are fertile and Daisy will endure. But the life of any bird is full of adversity.

Will the White Bellied Sea Eagles return to the nest? will they come and leave? Will Dad decide to stay all day? It certainly seems that he can sit for hours and that is what I am told eagles do – sit and sit for long periods of time. If no one is on the nest again, will the Curra return to destroy Daisy’s nest? We wait.

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!

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