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.

No, we didn’t forget about you…

How could anyone forget about Lime-Green-Black and his beautiful baby chick? One of the countries that I often applaud is New Zealand. I have a good friend and colleague who lives there and he is quick to say that New Zealanders love their birds! He wishes they would do more to clean up the coal industry but, he is thrilled at what they do for their wildlife. And that is where we are going to begin today: the Royal Albatross Colony on Taiaroa Head. It is on the southern Island near Dunedin.

It is summer in the Southern Hemisphere. And we are checking on the Royal Albatross couple, LGL and LGK. I know. What is with all the letters, right? The New Zealand Department of Conservation puts coloured bands on the Royal Albatross. They have specific date ranges for the beginning colour so that the Rangers can tell immediately the approximate age of the sea bird they are trying to identify. So our couple is: Lime-Green-Lime (female) and Lime-Green-Black (male). You might think that Black should be B but that goes to Blue. So K is used for Black.

LGL and LGK have been a mated pair since 2017. Albatross mate for life. If one dies, then it is hoped that they find a new mate. And sometimes, there are divorces! Or Threesomes. It can get complicated. But, generally, we consider them a mated pair for life which can be very long, into the 60s and 70s.

LGL laid their egg on November 7, 2020. The parents each took turns incubating the egg so that the other could go out to sea to feed. The incubation period is approximately 80 days. The NZ DOC rangers check the eggs early to find out if they are fertile and they continue to check them. Near to hatch, they check closely as they will remove the egg and replace it with a dummy egg. This allows the chick to hatch in an incubator. It is returned to the parent once it has hatched and is dry. At that time the Rangers sprayed the nest with an insecticide so that no fly larvae can get on the wee one. The insecticide is not harmful. Until such a time as the chick can regulate its own temperature and it is safe to leave it on the nest by itself, the parents will continue their rotation. One will keep the chick warm and feed it while the other is out to sea fishing. This nesting period lasts ten months. The laying the egg and the nesting period is so hard on the Albatross that they only have one chick every 2 years. As it happens, LGL and LGK were the Royal Cam parents in 2019 and their little one received a Maori name, Karere. It means ‘Messenger’.

I bet you are wondering about the names. Normally, the people of New Zealand submit possible names for the Royal cam chick. A number are selected for a final judging and a committee picks one of these. And that becomes the name. The individual who submitted the winning name gets a trip to see the Royal cam chick in person. In practice, only Royal cam chicks get names but they also get coloured bands. In 2020, because of the pandemic, no one could see the chick so the decision was made to open the naming contest to everyone in the world. The winning name for the female, known fondly as Pippa, was Atawhai. Atawhai means ‘kindness and caring’ in Maori.

One thing that I noted in checking the history of this Royal Cam couple is that both of their chicks hatched on the same day, 24 January. Karere in 2019 and this little one in 2021.

Look at that beautiful little baby being fed by its dad, LGK?

The parent teaches them to feed by tapping on their bill. In the image above you can see the chick with its bill inside the parents being fed a nice ‘squid shake’. It does not take long for the chick to figure out the tapping so that they can stimulate the parent to feed them. The parents regurgitate an oil squid liquid from a second stomach for the feedings.

In the image below, LGK (the male) is looking on as the chick is weighed. Remember that the chick hatched on 24 January. The weighing that you are seeing was 2 February. It is normal that the chick would be weighed inside a small sock. If you look carefully you will see a linen bag in front of the elbow of the ranger doing the weigh in. The chick needed a bigger bag! Oh, my goodness. This little one is growing so fast. Only nine days old and already needing to be upsized.

Now, everyone likes to speculate on the gender of the chick and there are also games played on how how much weight the chick has gained over the week. I am going right out there and saying that this is a little boy. Male albatrosses are bigger than the females. (It is the opposite for raptors such as Bald Eagles, Peregrine falcons, Red tail Hawks, etc.). We should know in about a week.

Any chick weighing more than 500 grams will only be weighed once a day, not twice. So, what I know is that this little one is more than 500 grams but it is only being weighed once. Someone mentioned 660 grams or 1.4 lbs. But I have to verify that.

This is an image from the weighing yesterday. You can see the linen bag instead of the sock much more clearly.

The proud parent looks on waiting very patiently for the return of their baby! All is well with our little one.

The picture below is priceless. Can you spot that little cutie pie poking its head out? Precious.

I have learned so much about these beautiful birds. The Southern Albatross are the largest seabirds in the world with an average wing span of in excess of 3 metres or 9.8 feet. (I should mention that for a very long time it was thought that the Wandering Albatross was the largest both in wingspan and bulk but recent studies indicate that it is the Southern Royal Albatross or that they are the same.) When they are adults they will weigh about 8.5 kilograms or 18.73 pounds. Wow. Our little one has a long way to go. Once our chick fledges (or flies out to sea), they will spend four to six years on the ocean feeding and growing before they ever set their paddle feet on land. In fact, they have ‘sea legs’. You have probably heard that term. They can be quite wobbly. They will return to where they were born, as juveniles, looking for a mate. But they will not breed that year.

The parents are very tender with one another. They do sky calls, holding their head up proudly to the sky, and they preen one another. They see one another when they switch incubating and nesting duties. Once this chick fledges which is normally in September, they will not see one another again until the following November, if both survive. They are remarkable sea birds. I like to call them ‘Gentle Giants’.

LGL and LGK preening one another.

The Albie on the right is doing a sky call. They will raise their long neck as if looking straight to the sky and give out what some call a ‘high pitched screaming bray’. Some say it sounds like a donkey! Not so sure about that but, maybe. Definitely higher pitched. When one or another of the parents arrive, they will often do a series of sky calls. In this instance it is really a way to say ‘hello’. Eventually the little one will copy their parents in the welcome.

Skycall.

Good Morning E17 and E18! The good news about our little eaglets from Harriet and M15’s aerie in Fort Myers is that they had their eyes open this morning with little to no discharge. Isn’t that fantastic? E-17 still has mild irritation in its right eye and conjuctivitis in both eyes. I wasn’t sure what that meant so I checked. We used to call it pink eye! It is an inflammation of the clear membrane that lines the eyes and covers the white part of our eyeball. You will have seen someone, maybe even yourself, where the blood vessels are visible. This is when they are inflamed and the white of the eye will appear pink or very red. That is what E-17 is fighting. E18 eyes are better. Both are really eating well. E17 is now 385 grams while E18 is 295 grams. If you have forgotten the weights from my last posting. E17 was 285 grams and has gained 100 grams and E18 was 220 grams and has gained 65 grams. Oh, they just look so much better and they are definitely gaining weight. This is so good. Maybe they can be delivered back to their parents by the end of the week. Let’s all send them warm wishes cheering them on. It looks like the antibiotics are starting to work.

There is also some good news for our Bald Eagles at Duke Farms. The snow gently fell again last night but by noon today (3 February), we can now see that it is beginning to melt off parts of the nest. Oh, this pair of eagles will surely be wanting spring to arrive. Just like I am. It is -4 and grey today. Cold to the bone but it is at least not -26 like it was a few days ago.

Take care everyone. Stay safe. Thank you so much for stopping in to check on the birds around the world with me. I hope that you have a really nice day!

And if you are looking for a different poster to send out about rodenticides, here is another. All our creatures will thank you for spreading the word. This is especially good if you live near a Bald Eagle nest.