Gosh, lots of nest happenings!

Today is a check in with our favourite birds. I am working on a developmental chart so that you can check and see how the various birds are growing and if they are meeting their milestone goals. That will be ready for tomorrow, hopefully. We haven’t checked in with our favourite ‘babies’ for a couple of days and there has been lots of activity.

Our first stop is in Fort Myers at the SWFL Eagle Nest with Harriet, M15, E17 and E18. Just yesterday E17, the one that picks on her little brother, was sound asleep in a food coma. E18 decided it would be a good time just to sit on her! You can tell the difference between the two because E17, two hours older, currently has many black feathers on its back.

These two just get funnier and funnier. They have been working on cleaning up the nest, looking over the edge at the world around them, and flapping those wings. When they stretch, like E17 is doing now you can see how long their legs are. Meanwhile, after they have eaten themselves silly, they often look like they are turning into snow people…round blobs with very large jelly bellies.

E18 decides that E17 is a good sofa.

The parents have been introducing the little ones to various types of prey. The eaglets will imprint the animals into their memory and know, when they are older, what to hunt. The other day there was a virtual smorgasbord of three fish, a rabbit, a squirrel, and a cattle egret. The kids have eaten til their crops were so big they simply fell over in a food coma. E18 is at the top of the screen. Have a look. Looks like he has swallowed a small ball. E18 really liked the Cattle Egret. I guess eaglets get tired of eating the same old thing, too.

M15 feeds E18 rabbit and Cattle Egret, Harriet feeds E17 fish

At the same time there has been some very concerning activity. A Great Horned Owl (GHOW) knocked M15 off a branch and into the nest the other evening. It is a wonder he was not severely injured. The owl has gotten braver and almost took Harriet out of the nest – like literally pulling her out. The owl knows that there are little ones for its dinner in that nest. The advantage the owl has is that it flies silent, like a Stealth bomber and it is nocturnal. There is concern because E17 and E18 are too big to fit under Harriet anymore. They often sleep at various places on that big nest. They would be easy pickings for that owl. I know I sound like a broken record but GHOWs are powerful opponents. There is nothing cute about them when it comes to survival.

The image below is from an established Bald Eagle nest near Newton, Kansas. A Great Horned Owl is taking it over to lay her eggs. The owl and eagle confront one another. The Bald Eagle leaves. To date, there have been no other altercations that I aware. The Bald Eagles might have found somewhere else to lay their eggs this season. The GHOW’s eggs will hatch if all goes well and the little owls will fledge at the end of April.

The image below shows the Bald Eagle decided to leave and wait to fight another day. Better safe than severely injured.

And speaking of injuries. Look at this fellow. His lead levels just continue to improve. And when they are cleaning the clinic, A Place Called Hope, he gets the run of the place to walk around. The rehabbers say he loves being ‘the big cheese’ and gets to look at all of the other patients in their cages. When the weather gets better, he will be able to go to the outside aviary. My goodness, he sure looks fabulous!

Sure are lots of changes and goings on in the bird world. Down in New Zealand, the Royal Albatross Chick of 2021 was left alone by its mother, LGL (Lime Green Lime) for the first time over the weekend. This is normal and is called ‘post guard’. The parents begin to leave them alone for periods of time preparing for when the chick will only see their parents when they return to feed them. Happily, the little chick’s dad, LGK (Lime Green Black) flew in about three hours after the mother had left. So that first solitary time wasn’t so bad except for one of the red banded non-breeding juveniles that wanted to give it a hard time and scare it. In actual fact, the older ones are just curious but they can get a little rough. This causes the little ones do get frightened. Imagine the first time you are left alone ever and some big Albatross comes over and starts pulling at your head! It had to be frightening.

Red Banded Non-Breeding Albatross giving the Royal Cam Chick the ‘going over’.

In the image below, the Royal cam chick puts its head down in submission. This is the second visit from the Red-banded non-breeder and the little one wants to protect itself.

Royal Cam Chick is afraid of the Red-Banded Non-Breeder and puts head down.

This little boy (OK, they haven’t announced that but because of its size and rapid growth everyone believes it is a boy) entertained itself with stretches and playing with nest material when it was fully alone. Over the course of the next months, it will build play nests all around its natal nest for something to do.

Solly, the Port Lincoln female Eastern Osprey, with the satellite tracker had been heading north. We have been watching her break records for moving so far away from her natal nest. Now at 154 and 155 days she appears to be heading south. Perhaps she has finished her adventure for now and is going home to her barge nest in Port Lincoln.

She had gone north of Eba Anchorage and now she has doubled back. Streaky Bay is on the way to Port Lincoln!

And one last check in for the day, little E24 over in North East Florida Eagle nest with parents Samson and Gabby. What a cutie! Talk about milestones – this little one seems like it is going to beat all of them. So precious. Pin feathers are coming and his eyes are nice and clear.

Gabby still incubates that egg and you might be wondering about it. The folks at the American Eagle Foundation determined that the second egg never began cracking. Half of E24s shell did slip over the small end and because of the yolk oozing out and an illusion where the crack was it looked like the other eaglet had been cracking around the middle to get out. They are saying that never happened. The second egg was not viable and it was all just an optical illusion.

E24 will not mind growing up an only eaglet. His parents take such good care of him and they challenge him every day with something new to learn.

To make sure that he clears the nest with his ‘ps’, NE24 tucks his head way down low and his tail high up. Incredible! Just watch out parents if you are in the line of fire.

So right now, everything is alright on the two Florida eagle nests, SWFL and NEFL. The Great Horned Owl still occupies the Bald Eagle nest in Kansas. The Eagle Warrior continues to improve. The Royal Albatross chick is growing by leaps and bounds and is in ‘post guard’ stage. Meanwhile Solly has decided, for some reason, to maybe head back home or to go back to Streaky Bay. She seemed to like that place a lot. We last saw her there a week ago or a little more hanging out with the pelicans. And NE24 remains adorable.

Thanks for checking in. Take care everyone. See you soon!

Thanks to the AEF and the streaming cams at SWFL and D. Pritchett, AEF and the streaming cam at NEFL, A Place Called Hope for the image of the Warrior, Derek the Farmer for the streaming cam with the GHOW, Port Lincoln Ospreys for the tracking information on Solly and the Cornell Cams and the NZ DOC for the Royal Cam Albatross.

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.