Books, bird count, bunnies, and beak bites (yes, a shark bit an eagle)!

The pandemic and the onset of winter and, now, the Polar Vortex, mean that more often than not, my friends are tucked up under an old quilt or duvet, sipping hot tea, and reading. It is a favourite pastime of Canadians in the winter! And a lovely one at that. It is so nice to find articles in the strangest of places remarking on how we have all come to love books in the past year and have supported small book sellers. Many of my friends order an armful of books each week. Sadly, our libraries have been closed. It has encouraged me to seek out small publishers and second hand shops.

A nice surprise arrived in the post today. It is a book I ordered several weeks ago from an on line shop that specializes in used book. The book is called On the Wing. To the Edge of the Earth with the Peregrine Falcon by Alan Tennant. I haven’t finished my last book but I was tempted to peek inside. Gosh. That first page got me really excited. Let me quote some of the lines: “With no companion, guided only by the ancestral memory she carried within, our little hawk was staking her life. Nothing like the abstract idea of migration that I’d imagined, it was humbling even to be a spectator to the mortal intensity of what the tiny, determined speck below was doing”. “No one would ever know what she thought, but it was clear as we watched, something had swirled to life within this falcon, becoming the driving force of her entire being”. Tennant was in a Cessna Skyhawk, 2000 ft in the air, following a female peregrine falcon, with a tracker glued to her tail feathers, from Padre Island to the Arctic. Oh, I can’t wait to join him on this journey!

And, speaking of migration, before it happens, there is the Great Bird Count from 12-15 of February. And everyone can take part from toddlers to seniors, experts to backyard birders. It is fun and it is free. You just need your eyes (OK, mine aren’t so good because of glaucoma but I can still spot those feathered creatures luring around), a good memory or a note pad and pencil, and a computer to submit your findings.

Just imagine everyone around the world looking out their windows from Friday to Monday counting the birds that they see. You can spend from fifteen minutes each day to as long as you wish. Everyone goes to birdcount.org and reports their counts. Then researchers at places like the Audubon Society, the Cornell Ornithology Lab, etc will create a giant map of where all the birds are. Bird counts happen several times a year. All those counts reveal how recent weather patterns impact the birds and their movements. I hope you will join in the fun!

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And now for some updates on some of our favourite birds.

First up is the NorthEast Florida Eagle cam nest near St. Augustine. E24 is filling itself up with nice big bites of fish for such a little one. Samson brought in several nice big fish today and stocked up the pantry. No worries for Gabby if she is hungry or E24. Not a worry in the world. One of the things I love is seeing the dad fill that fridge up good. It looks like armadillo could be on the menu tomorrow. If only Gabby had a fridge and some non-harmful insecticide spray. There are so many mosquitoes there.

Look at that little one, so fluffy and round.

Well, the second wee one has a problem. A half of the shell from the first hatch did not get out of the nest fast enough and it slipped itself right over the other egg. So, it is making it much more difficult for E25 to hatch. That is why it looked like the chick had pecked all the way around the middle. It was an illusion. Gabby is looking down at a new hole the one inside is making as she tucks E24 in for a nap.

This happens often. Sometimes it takes so long for the little one to hatch that the first born is just so much older and bigger and the second born doesn’t survive. The older one totally dominates everything.

You can see how the shell got slipped over. It looks like the little one inside cracked this egg all around but it didn’t. Look carefully. There is a pip on the left end toward the bottom corner of the picture. Let’s hope it works and gets out of there soon.

I wonder if it is hotter in Fort Myers where E17 and E18 are growing up. The eagles in NEFL just don’t seem to be panting as much today as Harriet, M15 and the twins are.

Just look. You would think they are the best of buddies sharing a joke. Born within two hours of one another, they are twins. But that doesn’t mean, as we all know, that there isn’t fierce competition when it comes to food.

They both had a great big breakfast this morning. Just look at that crop. E17, the oldest, can’t even see its feet.

And here’s E18, just as stuffed. Sometimes I just want to poke one of those crops to see how they feel.

As the day progressed and the temperature rose, the little eaglets searched for any shade they could find around the nest.

It wasn’t long until Mom Harriet flew in and rescued her babies from the scorching Florida sun. She is like a ‘mumbrella’.

Right around tea time, Dad comes in with a snack for the youngsters.

In the book I am reading, Late Migrations. A Natural History of Love and Loss, the author Margaret Renkl says: “The cycle of life might as well be called the cycle of death: everything that lives will die, and everything that dies will be eaten. Bluebirds eat insects; snakes eat bluebirds; hawks eat snakes; owls eat hawks. That’s how wilderness works, and I know it. I was heartbroken anyway”. Renkl was referring to the wrens eating the bluebird eggs in the nest box on her porch. But today, for a snack, M15 found a fluffy little bunny. My friend, Michelle, always tells me that the bunny will become an eagle. It still makes me sad. The hawk that comes to our garden and I have an agreement. He can’t touch the rabbit that lives there or the little Downy Woodpecker. Sparrows are fair game.

M15 has once again made sure that the eaglets are too full for E17 to cause any mischief to her little brother, E18.

But the day is not over. It is 6pm on the nest and the twins are getting fed the rest of the rabbit. E18 has watched and learned well. He is now the master of what we call ‘snatch and grab’. I have seen him do this several times today. Pretends he is not interested, parent offers, he rushes and grabs. It turns out the eat far faster but, hey, whatever works. It is hard to see but both have huge crops and will sleep like babies the rest of the night. Great work Harriet and M15. Gotta’ love this family. If only every eaglet were as lucky (or every child) to have such great parents.

I have not checked into the Captiva Nest on Sanibel Island for several days. The last time there was an intruder and after reading about Romeo and Juliet or the Trio, I just couldn’t stand another heart break. I call the Captiva nest “the sadness”. It has not always been this way, just this year. This is where Peace and Hope, the beautiful eaglets of Connie and Joe died from rodenticide poisoning. You will remember how remorseful the parents were. And then there was an intruder. But, things happen in an instant on these nests and to my shock, when I clicked on the camera for the Captiva Nest today, there was Connie wrestling with a small shark! Seriously, a shark. It actually bit her beak. You can see the blood. (Just a note, it wasn’t blood from the shark). She fought with that thing and didn’t let it get the best of her. And for all the bother, she had a massive lunch. That shark is now an eagle – a fish with feathers. The bleeding was reported to CROW and the vets watched the footage and noted that the blood had stopped. No need for an intervention. Yeah. A quiet little yeah. I honestly don’t know how you would try and help a full grown eagle if it didn’t want to be helped.

Connie must have been very proud of herself. You can see the water in the distance and that shark was alive when she landed on the nest with it. These female eagles really do impress me!

Joe came in to check and see if everything was alright. And Connie allowed him to share her fish when she was finished – but not before!!!!!!!!!!

You can see the blood on her beak form when the shark bit Connie.

This is an image from the other camera monitoring this nest. Looks like a small shark to me.

Over in Hillsborough, New Jersey, the Eagles at Duke Farm are experiencing very different weather from Florida. It is currently 1 degree C. or 34 degrees F. at the nest. Over the next couple of days the temperature will rise to 2 or 3 C and that snow should melt. And then, wham. Just about the time you think it is over for this nest, the snow comes back heavy on Saturday and Sunday.

I promised an update. It is nearing 9:30 pm on 9 February. Across North America the birds are trying to sleep. In Australia, they have been awake for a few hours.

Tomorrow we will check on the Royal Albatross and see if Gabby has one eaglet or two.

Sleep well everyone. Take care of yourselves and don’t get out in this extreme weather unless it is absolutely essential. Check out the site to put in the birds you count in a few days – just so you know where to go. It is such a joy to share my love of these beautiful creatures with you.

Thank you to the NEFL eagle cam, the SWFL cam and D. Pritchett Farms and Real Estate, Captiva eagle cam, and Duke Farms eagle cam for their streaming cameras. This is where I get my screen shots for you.

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.

What a winter storm!

What do you do if you are a Bald Eagle and you arrive at the nest to see your mate who is incubating three eggs buried by snow? Well, that is precisely what happened at Duke Farms in Hillsborough, New Jersey yesterday during that terrible nor’easter that hit the region.

At times, during the big storm, you could see the female’s head but there were other times when she was entirely buried or so it seemed. The snow was so heavily and blowing so fiercely.

I wonder if the warmth of her head kept the space open from the snow or if the female eagle tossed her head and opened up a breathing spot?

Mom is buried under the snow incubating eggs. Image courtesy of Duke Farms Eagle Cam.

By the time the male arrives the female has been entirely covered. He was calling to her and she raised her neck. Then the male began to use the beak that he normally feeds his babies with and catches prey to dig his mate out.

Dad chipping away at the snow. Image courtesy of Duke Farms Eagle Cam.

It wasn’t long before he had cleared enough snow that the female could stand up! You can see on the right side just how much snow had accumulated on the female and her three eggs. Speaking of three eggs, Bald Eagles normally only lay 2 eggs. When food is plentiful and the female is in good health, there might be three eggs. Many times, only two hatch.

Dad helping to free Mom. Image courtesy of Duke Farms Eagle Cam.

Oh, it was magnificent. The female eagle sort of jumped backwards out of the nest and began flapping her wings wildly to get rid of the snow. I did think that she was going to push her mate off of the eighty foot tall Sycamore tree.

In the image below you can just barely see the eggs under the snow that has slid onto the nest cup.

Mom is uncovered but where are the eggs? Image courtesy of Duke Farms Eagle Cam.

Some of the snow melted quickly. As you can see the female is still on the left hand side while the male has moved to the right. He is going to take a turn keeping the eggs warm while she has a wee break.

You can see the eggs! Image courtesy of Duke Farms Eagle Cam.

It was fascinating to watch the male eagle kind of fly jump back by his mate and then get on the eggs.

Under normal conditions the eagles do not move the snow off of the eggs. In this instance, it has fallen from the sides onto the egg cup. The parents simply leave whatever snow is on the eggs. The warmth of their bodies will soon cause it to melt and the surface of the eggs will dry. The eagles are being very protective of the coating on the egg so as not to damage the pores that allow air in to the developing eaglet.

Dad taking his place on the eggs. Image courtesy of Duke Farms Eagle Cam.

There was more snow during the night. Our poor mama is covered again but this time we can see her!

Mother Eagle literally buried in snow. Image courtesy of Duke Farms Eagle Cam.

By morning, the snow storm has passed and we can get a good look at the nest.

Seeing these birds just makes me ache. I want to bring them all inside and keep them warm or at least send in warming blankets for them. How dedicated these couples are!

The snow remains on the eagle aerie at Duke Farms. Image courtesy of Duke Farms Eagle Cam.

I have watched the little birds, like the Chipping Sparrows, make their nests in my garden and then the Grackles and I understand that Peregrine Falcons lay their eggs on gravel or sand or in a scrape box. But I didn’t know that much about Bald Eagle nests. Do you? If not, you can learn along with me.

Bald eagle’s large nest is called an aerie. Apparently Bald Eagle aeries, on average, are about five feet wide and three feet deep. OK. Stop. I thought how could they get their eggs if they were that far down in the nest! Silly me. Of course, it is the distance from the first stick to the top of the nest. The nest cup ranges from 30 to 40 centimetres (12 to 16 inches) in width. The depth seems to vary a lot. Many were surprised at how deep the cup was at Harriet and M15’s nest. It seems that the nest cup range is from about 10 centimetres (4 inches) to as much as as 30 centimetres (a foot) deep.

It is easy to see that nest cup ‘where the eaglets are supposed to stay’ in this image of E17 and E18 being fed by Harriet. I say that because both Hope and Peace crawled out of their nest cavity at two days old. They were so healthy. So sad to lose those two eaglets at Captiva to poisons. Hopefully the local campaign on the radio, television, and newspaper as well as flyers will get people to find other methods to kill rodents including hawks and owls!! Birds do better.

E17 and E18 getting fed in the nest cup. Image courtesy of SWFL Eagle Cam and D. Pritchett.

Bald Eagles are known to build the largest nests of any bird in North America. The males and females bring in new sticks to add structure along with other nesting materials to make the nest soft. Harriet and M15 at the SWFL nest in Fort Myers are fond of Spanish Moss to line their nest. You can see it in the image above. Just a few kilometres away on the Captiva Nest, Joe and Harriet use leaves. Each mated pair is different depending on what is available and what they like.

The largest Bald Eagle nest ever discovered was in St. Petersburg, Florida, in 1963. It was 2.9 metres wide (9.6″) and and 6 metres deep (20 feet). It weighed more than two metric tonnes (4409 lbs). The bald eagle builds the largest nest of any North American bird, up to 13 feet deep, 8.2 feet wide, and 1.1 tons in weight. If you look at images, you will generally see that the Bald Eagles, like the Osprey, construct their aeries near rivers, coastlines, or lakes where there is enough food for them and their little ones. The pair of eagles that are at Duke Farms hunt in the Raritan River.

The nest that you see at Duke Farms was rebuilt after Hurricane Sandy destroyed the top half of the tree the pair had their nest in. That was November 2012. Both eagles worked hard to construct a new aerie. They brought in sticks and you will notice how big that nest has gotten in fourteen years! Let us hope that they do not have to ever rebuild again.

And now it is time to bring you up to date on one of the nests we are watching together. What is happening with Harriet and M15’s little eaglets with the eye infection? And when will they get to go home? CROW says they are eating ferociously. Neither leave a drop of quail or rat! And they are putting on weight. And this morning I spotted a slight tinge of black or charcoal coming over them. It is their juvenile colours starting to break through! My goodness, these little eaglets grow up so fast.

In the picture below, the little eaglet is getting an injection of antibiotics. Their eyes are inproving and their appetites are good but the infection is still present. The vets do not want to send the eaglets back to Harriet and M15 til it is completely gone. Will keep you posted every day about their progress.

Eaglets get injection at meal time. Image courtesy of CROW.

Have a peek. Look at all that dark plumage coming in and if you look at the end of their beaks you will notice that the egg tooth is almost gone. It is that little white dot. When they arrived at the clinic, it was much bigger. Also their necks are getting longer too! They will be able to grab that fish and rabbit from their parents easier now. But I wonder if they will want the nice quail they have been eating?

Eaglets preparing to be weighted. Image courtesy of CROW

Oh, their eyes look so much better. Thank goodness that there are people who can muster the resources to take care of these beautiful eagles. Thank you CROW!

Thank you for joining me today. Tomorrow I will bring you an update on the eaglets, some images of the change over with the Albatross, and we will see what is happening elsewhere in the world of birds.