Eaglets Flapping

Now that our eaglets are getting their first full set of feathers, we’re seeing a good bit of flapping in the nest as the eaglets build up their flight muscles. Below is a video from April 4 that shows our eaglets in action. At the beginning of the video the older chick gives a couple big stretches, then lines up for a nice slicing (the fancy word for pooping) maneuver. If you watch closely, it clears the branches and hits the ground. (Don’t walk under an eagle nest!) Next our older eaglet gives a nice little flap and shows us his blood feathers or pin feathers. Then he walks over and annoys his little sibling, which is always fun. Finally he uses his big talon to scratch at the pin feathers on his head, which likely itch.

If you check out our younger chick in the video, you can see he has a nice big crop on his chest (recently fed) and then he gives a little flap toward the end of the video, and you can see his blood feathers as well.

An adult bald eagle has around 7,200 feathers. Eagle feathers come in a variety of types, including:

  • Primary feathers, which can be spread out like fingers on a hand to reduce drag.
  • Secondary feathers, which can be moved down to increase drag or up to reduce it.
  • Tail feathers, which are used for steering.
  • Coverts, which make the wing thicker in front, so that air will flow faster over the top of the wing.

Eaglet Feathers

You can learn more about eagle feathers and flight on the Bald Eagle’s Quest for Flight web page. Also check out the Feather Atlas run by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service where you can search on bald eagle and golden eagle feathers and see photo examples.

Speaking of photo examples, below is a nice chart that the USFWS put together showing how bald eagle feathers compare among adult and juvenile eagles. In this collection are two feather types we haven’t mentioned yet — plume and body feathers, which sit closer to the eagle’s body, help give it shape, and provide insulation for warmth.

Eagle Feathers

Bald eagle feathers are valued even today for their use in Native American religious ceremonies. When we find a dead eagle or parts of an eagle at Blackwater NWR, the staff turn them over to the National Eagle Repository in Colorado where the USFWS distributes deceased eagles, feathers, and parts to members of Federally Recognized Tribes for religious purposes. By overseeing the distribution of bald and golden eagle parts, the USFWS helps to ensure the fair distribution of eagle remains and also helps to reduce the black market demand for these items.

In our next blog post we’ll talk about feather molting and preening, which is how our eagles keep their feathers in tip-top shape.

Until next time,
Lisa – webmaster
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Blood Feathers

Our two eaglets are around six weeks old at this point, and you can see that they’re quickly developing dark areas all over their bodies. These dark areas are where their blood feathers — or pin feathers — are growing. They’re called “blood” feathers because each feather (which looks like a “pin”) is enclosed in a blood-filled shaft that feeds the feather. The color of the blood in the shaft looks blue from our angle, as you can see in this photo of an eaglet from a nest in Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge in east central Michigan. Notice the dark brown feather protruding from the shaft. Once the feather is fully grown, the shaft will fall off or the eaglet will pull it off, and the feather will unfurl.

Michigan eaglet in nest

Eaglet in nest. Photo by Jeremy N. Moore/USFWS

Eventually the eaglet will develop feathers all over its body, and when the feathers are completely developed, the eaglet will be dark brown in color. The eaglet will not develop its distinctive white head and tail until it reaches maturity, at about 4-5 years of age.

In the video below, you can watch biologists working with an eaglet at Stony Creek Metropark (courtesy of Macomb Audubon Society). The eaglet in the video is six weeks old — about the same age as our chicks. This eaglet is probably close in appearance to our older chick. Watching the video, you can see the blood feathers on this eaglet’s wing, and you can also get a new appreciation for how big our chicks’ beaks and talons are about now.

As you might have seen me mention on the cam page a little while ago, we’ll be launching the 2014 Eaglet-Naming Contest on April 9 now that our two chicks look like they’re healthy and going to make it to fledgling age. On the afternoon of April 9, we’ll post a note on the cam page with details on how to enter our contest.

Until next time,
Lisa – webmaster
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Younger Eaglet Feeding

We have some new videos to share of our two eaglets, and they include some interesting footage of our younger eaglet getting his share at mealtime. The younger chick has to be a little crafty and careful about picking his moments, so he doesn’t get bopped on the head, but as you can tell from these videos, he’s holding his own.

In this first video from March 18 (before we zoomed out the camera), the parent is feeding the chicks what looks like a mammal and passes a rather large piece — possibly with some bone — to the older chick, who struggles to swallow it. The younger chick takes advantage of this moment and grabs for the food. As you can see, the parents are good about taking food back and making it smaller if the eaglets struggle with swallowing it, and that’s what the parent does. But this gives the younger chick an opportunity to get more of the meal. Something else to note in this video is how big the older chick’s beak is getting, which you can see when he points his head up.

In the next video, the father eagle flies in with a fish, and then the mother lands and starts feeding the eaglets. The younger eaglet takes advantage of his position to grab some of the meal. Notice how big the older chick looks when compared to the adults. Also notice his big yellow talons, which are likely close to full size.

And in the final video, the mother eagle lands with a fish, and the younger eaglet gets a meal to himself. If you look closely, you might see a bit of black on the back of the younger eaglet and also on the wing tip of the older eaglet when he flaps at about 2:30 into the video. Those are pin feathers coming in on the youngsters. We’ll talk more about feather development in the next post.

Until next time,
Lisa – webmaster
Support the Blackwater Cams
Contact Us

Categories: eaglet | Leave a comment

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