Stormz

When I woke up this morning, this was the weather forecast that caught my attention. I sat and stared. Yes, the Achieva Osprey Nest in St. Petersburg, the SWFL Eagle Nest in Fort Myers, and the NEFL Eagle Nest in Jacksonville were all in the ‘possible threat’ of a Severe Threat region. What precisely does that mean? If it’s bad it is going to be really bad but, it might not be nothing at all?

At the Osprey nest in St. Pete’s, it was already starting to get a little gusty. Still, Jack came in with a really nice fish around 9:09 and all had a good breakfast – all of them were fed equal – and there was no issues of the eldest trying to be dominant. Great planning, Jack! It was, however, not long until the local weather report had warnings of rip tides (dangerous currents) and by 10:30 the nest platform was swaying pretty good. The local weather said 48 kph or 30 mph winds. It is hard to understand what that means to the nest structure and the Ospreys. I have presumed that the structure was built to withstand a hurricane but that might not be true at all. But what kind of a gust does it take to blow an Osprey or a little one off the nest? My mind quickly went back to the wind gusts that sent the Red Tail Hawk at Ithaca, New York, Big Red, flying off the nest bowl taking one of the eyases with her last year in the spring. That was really scary to watch. They both clamoured back onto the nest. Still, I sat and hoped that Tiny Tot would hold on good and tight. How much does the little thing weigh?

The image below does not capture the swaying of the nest. The rains had not started but, the gusts were strong. See how the little ones are all tucked in. It reminds me of ‘the duck and cover’ exercises when I was in grade school. If a nuclear bomb exploded, we were told to get under our desks and cover our heads – we would be safe. Don’t even get me started about that. However, those three little Ospreys are doing a great job of tucking in. They would have gotten an A from my first grade teacher, Mrs McReynolds.

In a couple of hours there was a break in the weather and the little ones were able to relax. You are looking at Tiny Tot on the left and the eldest on the right. Both are getting juvenile plumage – all the fluffy down is now gone. They have a grey matte down covering and the beautiful copper coloured feathers are coming on their heads. They have a white stripe from their heads down their backs. The dark lines from the back of their eyes to their neck are becoming prominent. They sure resemble dinosaurs when they are all tangled up together! Their crops have dropped so both are ready for a good meal. Let’s hope Jack has some success fishing. I am going to imagine that fishing could be difficult with the rain, winds, and rip tides.

Within an hour, the weather changed again. The winds picked up giving Diane a brand new hair do and the little ones are holding on under her wings. Good thing. The skies open and heavy rain comes down soaking everyone and the nest.

It has been a difficult week for food on this nest. The high temperatures, reaching as much as 30 degrees C, have meant that the fishing was only good in the early mornings and around sun down. Despite the rain and the rip tides today, Jack did manage to bring in another fish -quite small – after the weather had settled for a bit, around 7:26pm.

The oldest dominated the feeding and treated both number 2 and Tiny Tot (some call him Tumbleweed) rather aggressively. The kids are wet and cold and miserable – and I imagine Diane is, too. These are experienced parents who have fledged three off a nest. They know what they are doing but they cannot control the weather – the storms or the high heat. Let’s just hope that tomorrow is a cool calm day with a couple of big fish on the nest!

The issues with the eldest on the Achieva Osprey Nest happen over and over again on Osprey and Bald Eagle nests around the world (as well as with other species). And the situation -the sibling rivalry -can turn on a dime. For the past few days there have been concerns about the aggressive behaviour of the eldest to the youngest at the Duke Farm nest in Hillsborough, New Jersey. The actions of the eldest got so bad that a message was posted by Duke Farms acknowledging that the behaviour being displayed was abnormally aggressive – ‘abnormally.’ The farm had obviously received e-mails and phone calls wanting an intervention to happen. Duke Farms had to remind watchers that the birds are protected and that their staff are not allowed within 305 metres or 1000 feet of the nest.

I have great sympathy for anyone watching the bashing that is given to the smaller ones. My whole body has gone rigid seeing a little one in submission unable to get any food – their heads pecked and their necks twisted by the eldest – when all they want is a few morsels of fish. And like many of you, I have watched these little ones perish, frustrated that no one took them off the nest and fed them so they got strong and could go back.

This morning the rain was coming down really hard. There was no food on the nest. The fish from yesterday was gone and the mother had picked every piece of meat off of the black feathered bird brought into the nest. At 12:59 the male flew to the nest and looked at the empty pantry. At 14:57:21 he returns with a trout from the stocked pond on the farm. Yes, like the nest for the SW Florida eagles on the Pritchett Farm, this one also has a fully stocked pond for the eagles.

Nest watchers were anticipating that the behaviour of the eldest was going to be very bad once prey arrived since there had been no food for twenty-four hours. That is, however, simply not what happened. The youngest stepped up to the front of the nest bowl and ate – and I mean ate! Not nibble – gorged on large chunks of fresh fish. It had so much confidence that it actually stole a bite of fish out of the eldest’s beak. This little one is smart. If it gets a chance it keeps its head down and then gets fed. Yesterday everything worked in its favour, too. The eldest ate first – as usual. Mom fed it from the black feathered bird picking anything off that she could find til it was full. Then she moved over to the fish. At first the little one was hesitant but, sensing that the eldest was not going to attack, it took a few bites and then climbed around and went up where its mother could more easily feed it. She filled that little eaglet with fresh fish. So, again, the little one is smart – in fact, they have to be to survive. And that is what all of this is about – survival.

Samson and Gabby watched the skies from the branches for a long time. If you look off in the distance the report for Jacksonville showed the worst of the storm coming in late, around 11pm nest time. Still the dark skies must have worried these experienced parents. It is always good to remember that the birds can sense the changes in the weather coming as good as any satellite system.

Gabby is sleeping close to Legacy. It is nearly 11pm. You can hear the winds on the camera’s microphone but the local weather says it is clear. Excellent news.

The weather forecast for these three nests calls for slightly cooler temperatures with sun or partly cloudy skies for Friday the 19th. Let us hope that lots of fish are on the menu! I should also add, since some of you might be wondering – the nest in Fort Myers is also fine. No weather issues!

Thank you so much for joining me today. Before I go, let’s close with a scap of Bonnie the Great Horned Owl. She is all fluffed up. What amazing plumage! She, once again, survived the snow and rain in Kansas. Her little ones still have their eyes closed but they were restless and one stuck its head up. They are doing fine. Clyde is a fantastic provider and the mice were coming to the nest despite the inclement weather!

Thank you to the Achieva Credit Union in St Petersburg, Florida; Duke Farms in Hillsborough, New Jersey; Derek the Farmer, and the AEF and NEFL Eagle Cam for their streaming cameras. That is where I took my scraps.

The babies are home, the babies are home.

I have to admit that I was a little concerned about E17 and E18. How many days could they be in the clinic? how soon would their eyes heal? would Harriet and M15 accept them? Falcons have been removed from their scrape box and returned in five days with no problem and someone did tell me that an eagle had been away from its nest for treatment for eleven days with the parents accepting it fully. Remember, Laura Culley, the falconer, says that “worrying is nothing more than establishing the outcome in your mind before anything has happened”. I get it but it is really hard not to be concerned. The eaglets are so little and vulnerable.

Yesterday E17 and E18 arrived back at the nest at 9:20 am.

Joshua Tree loans their truck to return the eaglets. Image courtesy of CROW.
CROW returns eaglets on 5 February. Image courtesy of CROW.

The parents were off soaring and fishing. Harriet did not come to the nest for five hours. She was almost shocked to find her babies there!

This is a cute little video of the arrival. My heart broke and tears rolled down my cheeks when E18, the little one (facing its mother in the image below), runs to its mom.

Oh, my babies are home! Little E18 runs to its mother. Image courtesy of D. Pritchett Real Estate streaming eagle cam.

There has been a lot of discussion on FB about the aggression of the oldest one, E17 to E18. You will remember that E17 got time out when the pair were at the clinic having their eye infection treated. I will not say that aggression has stopped, it hasn’t.

Harriet and M15 have been together a long time and successfully fledged their eaglets. They know what they are doing. I am just a human without feathers and I cannot fly. M15 brought in a rabbit this morning. E18 ate first and she ate until her crop was about to pop. And then E18 fell asleep and guess what? Little E17 was fed. For those of you not familiar with Bald Eagles, it is often best to let the aggressive one get fed and fall into a food coma and then the other one can eat in peace. Both had full crops. And M15 has also brought in a fish to go with the rabbit for later feedings.

In the image below, E18 is being fed while E17 snores away. Nice to have a private feeding without any intimidation!

M15 feeding little E18 while E18 sleeps. Image courtesy of D. Pritchett Real Estate streaming eagle cam.

If you look carefully, you will see that E18, the eaglet farthest away from the parent, has a nice crop. The crop is a storage area for food in a raptor’s esophagus. Food sits in the crop waiting to be digested. Raptors do something called a crop drop that moves the food to their stomach. Sometimes you can actually see this happen if you are watching one of the streaming cameras. The food that cannot be digested is formed into a pellet and is thrown up. The proper term is ‘casting a pellet’.

I have a crop too: E18. Image courtesy of D. Pritchett Real Estate streaming eagle cam.

E18 is asleep and E17, that little stinker, is over by the parent. You can easily see its full crop (large dark grey sort of shiny area below its head). No doubt Harriet and M15 will feed them several times today.

It wasn’t quail but it was good. E18 is in a food coma and E17 has a bulging crop, too. Image courtesy of D. Pritchett Real Estate streaming eagle cam.

And while I was absorbed by these little fellas being returned to the nest, something wonderful, halfway around the world, happened.

On Midway Atoll, in the Pacific Ocean, a little Moli was born. But this isn’t just any Moli, it is the baby of Wisdom, the oldest known banded Laysan Albatross in the world. She is at least 69 years old. Wisdom’s mate is Akeakamai. Most Laysan Albatross return bi-annually to breed, lay their egg, incubate, and fledge their Moli. Wisdom and her mate have, since 2006, met every year on Midway. How remarkable! It is believed that Wisdom has now laid between thirty and thirty six eggs. Four years ago, in 2017, a chick that Wisdom hatched in 2001 made her nest just a few feet away from her mother’s nest.

In the image below, you can see the tiny Moli that had just hatched. It is 1 February 2021. Wisdom is out fishing and Akeakamai was there to welcome his little one. Wisdom is helping scientists learn about the longevity of Laysan Albatross. In fact, she is rewriting everything they thought they knew.

Wisdom’s Moli. Born 1 February. Image courtesy of the FB page of the Pacific Coalition.

One of the biggest challenges facing Laysan Albatross are rising sea waters and storm surges. Approximately half a million breeding pairs of Laysan Albatross lay their eggs and raise their chicks on the Midway Atoll. Midway is only eleven feet above sea level. While the rate of ocean rise is not yet enough to submerge the island, the increase in storms and flooding are of concern. In February 2011, ten years ago, a storm destroyed 40,000 nests at a time when the eggs were just hatching. A third of the entire population was destroyed. Because the albatross are faithful to the nest, they return, year after year, to the same location. This process is known as philopatry.

To help solve the problem of seas rising and storm surges, there are projects between the US Navy, the US Fish and Wildlife Services, and the Pacific Rim Coalition. They are working together to create a new albatross colony on Oahu, one of the Hawaiian islands. In 2017, fifteen five-week-old chicks were moved to Oahu to try and form a new colony.

Besides sea water, Midway Atoll is like the garbage can for all the plastic in the Pacific Ocean. And the birds eat it and they die. We need to do better. But, it’s Saturday and we will talk about that and sticky paper traps for mice on Monday. Today, let’s just feel good about the eaglets being home and having full crops and Wisdom’s healthy chick hatching.

One of the things that I love about the Albatross – it doesn’t matter which species – is how gentle and fun these big seabirds can be.

Here is a quick little video of their mating dance. Look! They do sky calls. Don’t you just wish you could dance like these two?

And last but not least, another smiling story for a cold, cold Saturday. The snow on the nest of the Bald Eagles at Duke Farm in Hillsborough, New Jersey is almost completely melted. Yippee. What a change from a few days ago when the mom was buried in snow during the nor’easter.

The snow is melting. Image courtesy of Duke Farms Streaming Eagle Cam.

The Polar Vortex has hit the Canadian Prairies and it is dangerously cold. We are being told to stay inside. The birds have been fed and I am going to hunker down with some nice hot tea and read a new book that arrived, Late Migrations. A Natural History of Love and Loss by Margaret Renkl.

Thank you for checking in with our favourite birds today. I needed to post some cheerful stories because marked on my calendar in big red letters is ‘hatch watch for Daisy the Duck’. Oh, how I hope she is paddling away enjoying herself. She gave us such joy and I know that many of you miss her as much as I do. Take care. See you soon!

A Bald Eagle threesome, really?

Before I get to the main topic of today, I want to bring you an update on E17 and 18. You might have been wondering whether or not these little cutie pies would be leaving the clinic and going home to Harriet and M15 today. Sadly, it looks like the answer is no. It is no surprise that both of them are eating well. At today’s weight in and vet check, E17 was 445 grams and E18 was 340 grams. Oh, they sure are growing!

One thing that has happened is that E17 is showing aggression towards E18 during the feeding times yesterday, 3 February. This is about resources and is hardwired into raptors despite the presence of a full pantry from mom and dad. The staff of CROW can separate them but when they are returned to the nest the aggression will continue in the form of E17 bonking and E18 lowering its head in submission. This is natural behaviour. Do I like it? No. What I have observed is that the one being picked on gets really smart and sneaking in terms of getting its fair share. Old timers who have watched eagles for years tell me just to settle down, quit worrying, and ride it out. In the case of these two all will be well.

Harriet cannot separate them at the nest but CROW did. E17 is having a time out from bopping E18! Look at it having to sit in the corner.

Oh, gosh, these two are soooooooo cute.

Oh, gosh, they are just too cute for words. Image courtesy of CROW.

And here is the photo from this morning. They are changing colour right before our eyes. And their eyes are improving. No discharge at all. Some irritation in E17’s right eye and in both eyes of E18. My goodness from those poor crusted babes that looked like their eyes came out of a horror movie, they are looking like really beautiful strong eagles today,

They might miss that lady with that veil that has been feeding them all that yummy food. Wonder if Harriet and M15 supply quail?

4 February.

I am going to mention Laura Culley twice. Oh, I admire this woman and her wisdom about birds and, in particular, hawks and falcons. Indeed, I know much more about those smaller raptors than I do these big Bald Eagles. I know that a lot of us worry when we see the little ones bopping one another. It is funny for about a day or two and then we get afraid for the smaller one. This is what Laura tells me about worrying and I want to share it with you. “Worrying is creating an outcome in our minds that hasn’t happened yet. Soar above it all and look at the big picture.” That has helped me in other times, too, if I can remember it. Maybe it can help you, too, or someone you know.

Culley also explained to me the difference in the two terms, formel and tercel. When we talk about raptors, the formel refers to the female. The tercel is the male. ‘Tercel’ comes from the word third because it is believed that the third egg was always the male. In this instance, it is the second egg. In the case of our Bald Eagles as well as the hawks and raptors that I love, the female is the largest. This is called Reverse sex-size diamorphism. It seems that we are already seeing this in E17 and E18, perhaps.

And this whole thing about dominance and territory leads perfectly into this unusual story.

Starr with Valor I and II, February 2021. Image @2021 Stewards UMRR

How many adult Bald Eagles do you see sitting on branches of the same tree? If you said three, you are right. These three eagles have a nest in a tree on the Mississippi River near Fulton, Illinois. Just from reading about E17 and E18 we know that even eaglets fight for dominance and for food. And that is what makes this nest so special. There are two males and a female and, apparently, they are an Internet sensation.

It all began in 2012, nine years ago. Valor 1 (one of the males) was mated with a female named Hope. They had a nest along the Mississippi River. But Valor I was anything but a good dad and mate. He was completely irresponsible in taking care of the eaglets when it was his turn. Hope incubated the eggs almost entirely by herself. Valor 1 did not bring food to her nor did he appear to relieve her of her duties. He was a dead beat eagle dad. There is no other way to say it. Hope had to stay on the nest almost the entire time. But she had to get food and take breaks. Sometimes Valor 1 would incubate them but only for about ten minutes before he got bored and left. This is starting to sound like what happened to Daisy the Duck, right? The winter along the Mississippi was very cold and none of the rangers believed that the eggs would hatch. To the surprise of everyone, they did! Hope had to leave the little eaglets to get food for the three of them. Valor 1 did not help at all. Just like Daisy, Hope had to get off the nest to go to the bathroom and to get food for both her and her babies. Sadly, when they were four days old, while Hope was away both eaglets fell off the nest and died.

Next breeding season, in 2013, Hope wasn’t having anything to do with Valor I. A new male appeared despite Valor 1 hanging about the nest continually. Hope and her new mate fledged two eaglets in 2013 and 2014. Yeah for this great mom! Interestingly, in 2015, Hope mates with both males and that year, another two eaglets fledged. The following year, in 2016, Hope again mates with the two males who are now named Valor I and Valor II. All that is known is that three eggs hatched. The monitoring camera broke down and the rangers cannot say for sure what happened on the nest after hatch. But something magical happened that year. Valor I was seen helping with more of the nest building. He incubated the eggs and he helped provide food. In other words, he grew up! Maybe it was by watching what Valor II was doing?

The images below show the three Bald Eagles sharing nest renovation duties in November, 2017.

In 2017, the three assumed all duties equally. They replenished nest material, incubated the eggs, brought in food for one another, protected the nest, and fed and took care of the two eaglets that were born. On March 24, the nest was attacked by two intruders, both Bald Eagles. Hope fought them off as best she could but she was fatally injured. Her body was never found, Valor I and II protected the eaglets and remained unharmed. And, to the shock of all, Valor I and II took on shared ‘eaglehood’. They took turns keeping the eaglets warm and safe, they brought food and feed the little ones, and they guarded the nest. Indeed, they did all that and fought off continued attacks by the two intruders throughout April and into May. Both of the eaglets fledged on May 30. Isn’t that amazing? Oh, I wish Daisy had help like this.

In the image below, one of the Valors (on the right) is defending the nest from one of the intruders on 4 April. You can see the grey eaglets on the nest just behind the parent. Attacks like these continue for the entire month. Most believe that the two intruders wanted to take over the nest. Bit Valor I and II did not let that happen nor did they allow any harm to come to the little ones. What a team.

One of the two fathers fighting an intruder while brooding the eaglets. Image @2021 Stewards UMRR

That fall a young female appeared. In September, Rangers noticed that she was collecting material for the nest. She mated with both Valor I and II and the trio shared all responsibilities for the nest and the eaglets. Two eaglets hatched in 2018. One is known to have died when it was about a month old. The other one fledged early but was seen by the rangers in the area and it was doing just fine. The rangers named the female Starr.

The two images below show Star and both Valors working on the nest in November, 2017.

The three work on the nest together. Image @2021 Stewards UMRR
Valor I and II with Starr in the old nest. Image @2021 Stewards UMRR

In 2019, the three raised three healthy eaglets that fledged.

In 2020, two eggs were laid on 14 and 17 February. They hatched on 23 and 24 March fledging on 10 and 16 of June. Everything was wonderful until Derecho entirely destroyed the beautiful old nest in August. A derecho is a long straight line windstorm that can have speeds up to that of a hurricane. Everything was torn apart. But that did not phase the three Bald Eagles. They started to rebuild their nest across the Mississippi River from the ole one. The trio can only be seen from a distance until a new streaming camera can be installed.

In the image below, Starr is on one of the branches along with one of the Valors. It is 3 February 2020. This will be their third breeding season together. The other Valor is bringing in sticks to help continue to build the new nest. Note how shallow the nest is now. Each year they will add more and more twigs and branches and soon it will be as large as the old nest.

Valor I and II and Starr work on new nest in February 2021. Image @2021 Stewards UMRR

This week Starr has been observed mating with both of the Valors. The three appear to have a fantastic relationship that is nothing short of miraculous in terms of Bald Eagle behaviour.

Every duty that is associated with a Bald Eagle nest from nestorations, to catching food, incubating eggs, feeding nestlings, and teaching eaglets is now shared equally. The rangers have not observed any animosity. This is such a rare occurrence that many are baffled at why it has worked so well. What they do know is that having three to share the duties has ensured up to this season anyway, that every breeding season has fledged healthy juvenile Bald Eagles. It certainly underscores that old saying, ‘If we just work together, we can do anything’.

I will bring you updates on this nest as more news is available. For now, the threesome continues to mate and bring sticks to the new nest. E17 and E18 are gaining weight, eating well, and their eyes are improving. I was sure hoping they would be home Friday (the 5th) but now think it will be Saturday. Oh, gosh. Harriet and M15 will hear their little peeps and be so excited.

Take care everyone. Thank you so much for joining me today. Please stay safe and well.