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.

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

7:46, June 12. J2 fledges.

It is the day that everyone has been waiting for – the first fledge off the Fernow light tower at the Cornell Campus in Ithaca, New York. The winner of the honour was J2.

J is the designation for the year, 2020. The camera began recording the activities at the nest in 2012. Knowing that Big Red had, at least, two earlier years raising successful chicks prior to the cameras, they began with the letter C in 2012. The ‘2’ is because this hawklet was the second to hatch but was, ironically, the first egg to be laid. Which if you are good at math and understand the counting indicates that this chick is actually the oldest.

J2 has beautiful blue eyes which will eventually turn darker and a wide white terminal band. Notice how the breast (or crop area) is covered with the typical peach colour for these hawks. At fledge it also had a line of ‘dandelions’ remaining on the top of its head, like a mohawk hair-cut.

J2 sitting in a pine tree across the street from the nest but within view of his mum, Big Red. Notice the little dandelions on his head. How cute! Their talons have tendons that enable them to sleep or sit standing up without fear of falling over.

J2 set a first in the recording of fledges from the Fernow Tower nest. He fledged off the back of a light box. It was, actually, more of a fludge. He/she spent some wonderful time sitting on top of the light box balancing nicely and then slipped but recovered beautifully flying under the tower, across the street, landing by its talons on Bradfield to steady itself in a nearby Ginko tree.

For nearly twelve hours, until the camera stopped rolling, J2 kept us on the edge of our chairs. I tell you it was better than a good thriller on Netflix!

He/she flew keeping the legs tucked tight like a pro. J2 spent some time on top of the Rice Building, flew back near Bradfield and played around on the steps and railings to the entrance, flew off again to another building, and finally wound up near to where it started, back in the tree. Throughout Big Red was watching from the southeast corner at the top of Bradfield while Arthur soared whenever J2 got out of sight so that the chick could be located. Nothing gets by these two parents. Parenting is a well orchestrated sharing of duties.

Big Red on the left (17 years old) and Arthur on the right (4 years old)

When I first began watching the hawks on the ledge at NY University, I naively asked the chat group what kind of dangers hawks experienced. The Washington Square group were very patient with me describing the use of rodentcides that cause blood not to coagulate as a prime poison for the hawks in the parks of NYC. This is because their primary prey are the rats of the city. And then there are cars, buses, trucks, windows, air vents between buildings -. The list was extensive.

This morning J2 flew over a street with little traffic but still the cars and buses were moving at a clip and well, who knew that he could steer itself to the safety of a tree away from the road? He/she could have also, just as easily, flown into a window. There is a box of worry beads in the chat room and I suspect most of us were helping ourselves today. The sad truth is that 1 in 3 red-tail fledglings do not live to see their first year. I hope, for these in rural New York, that is not the case.

So tomorrow will be another nail biter as we wait to see what J1 and J3 will do. Will they both fledge at the same time? on the same day but at different times? will either of them try to go over the light box like J2 or will they find some new entry way to this next stage in their life?

Stay tuned! I am now officially a hawkaholic.

Teaching nestlings the value of food

By the time the three Red-tail hawks have fledged off the light stand at Cornell University, many of you might well be tired of listening to my natterings about the good parenting of these amazing raptors. Every day there are new lessons or repeated ones for the eyasses so that they can live a full and healthy life without relying on their parents. Isn’t that what all of us really want for our children? To sit back and smile knowing that they can take care of themselves if we are not there?

Today’s lesson involved a pigeon.

Just before the nestlings bedtime (around sunset), Arthur, the tercel (male/father) delivered a pigeon right in the middle of the nest and fledge area.

Arthur delivering the plucked pigeon.

Food to the nest has been dispersed sparingly as the nestlings approach the time they will fly off the natal nest. From morning til about 6pm, each had something to eat. And now it is right before bedtime. This is an easy snack! Their dad even plucked it for them. But the nestlings go about playing and picking up sticks and dreaming of flying and ignore the prey.

One of the nestlings near the prey but it shows no indication of being hungry or ready to eat.

Big Red (the mother/formel) comes to check on the state of the pigeon about ten minutes after it has been delivered. Ten minutes after this she comes with a branch and does some nest reconstruction. The youngest chick starts chirping wanting to be fed and the other two approach her as if she will fed them. Big Red has other ideas.

In the real world of hawks off the nest, prey can be scarce and young fledglings have to learn to eat when food is available, not ignore it. That was the lesson for today. Big Red looked around for a bit, picked up the pigeon with her talon and with nestlings chirping, she left with it. She does not bring it back even if they beg. It is gone. Too late. Too bad. Adios.