Monthly Archives: March 2014

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
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Eaglet Behaviors

As we posted on the Eagle Cam page, we have yet another snowstorm coming and it could bring 5-10 inches to Blackwater Refuge, depending on the forecast. The good news is our parents can use their bodies to cover the eaglets quite a bit during the storm, and our eaglets are a little better protected now that they have their second coat of down.

When the chicks first hatched, they had soft white down, but that’s slowly being replaced with a darker and heavier coat of down that will be the last covering of down they have before they start growing their feathers. If you look at the chicks now, you can see they appear to have a white cap on their heads — that’s the last of the white down that they had when they first hatched. The rest of their bodies has the heavier down, and it will help to keep them warm during the storm — although it’s important that the eaglets not get too wet, since they don’t have the full protection that feathers will one day provide.

We know folks have been concerned about our younger chick, but he seems to be hanging in there. He keeps his head down a lot during meals, in order to avoid being pecked by the older chick, but once the older chick has his fill, the younger one often gets part of the meal. There has been a decent amount of food in the nest, and both parents help with the feeding at times, so we think the younger chick is doing fine for his age, and each day he gets a little bigger and stronger. Eventually he’ll be big enough that his older sibling won’t be able to peck him.

Eaglets with white cap of down

Eaglets with white cap of down

Both parents feeding

Both parents feeding

Cam watchers have noticed that the eaglets sometimes have a bulging area on the front of their chests. This area is the crop, and it’s a place where the eaglets store food that hasn’t been digested. So we sometimes see the chicks eat what is a big meal for them, and afterwards their crop is extended; over time the eaglets can move food from the crop into their stomachs when they want to digest the rest of the meal. The crop is a handy device for raptors because it allows them to consume a lot at one sitting (for example, if they found large prey), but then digest it at a later time, when they’re ready.

As a last behavioral item to point out, a cam watcher shared a photo showing the older eaglet flapping his wings. As the chicks get bigger, wing flapping will become a bigger part of their day, as they work at growing the muscles that will one day allow them to take their first flight from the nest — maybe in May or June.

Eaglet's crop

Eaglet’s crop

Eaglet flapping

Eaglet flapping

Finally, we wanted to share a great photo we received from one of our cam watchers. Denny lives on the Piankatank River on Virginia’s western shore and he has a resident pair of eagles that have mated every year for the past 8 years and have fledged 11 eaglets. He sent this photo of an eaglet poking its head above the nest. The chick probably hatched sometime around Valentine’s Day, so it’s just a bit older than ours. You can see the white cap of down on the chick’s head and also see how the down on its body is much darker. This angle also gives you a better idea of how big our eaglets’ beaks are becoming, since they can look small on our nest camera. Thanks to Denny for sharing this shot.

Virginia bald eaglet

Virginia bald eaglet

We’ll work on getting the Eagle Cam Gallery updated over the next couple of days. Also, a big thanks to all those who came out for our Eagle Festival on Saturday — we had a great turnout.

Until next time,
Lisa – webmaster
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The Eagle Festival and Mealtime

Before we get to our feeding videos, we wanted to remind everyone that this Saturday, March 15, is our 14th Annual Eagle Festival at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge near Cambridge, Maryland. We have a very exciting schedule this year. In addition to our renovated Visitor Center (which reopened in December), we have two sets of TV monitors in the VC that will show you a live video feed of our eaglets on the Eagle Cam, so you can see them in action. We’ll also have Chesapeake Bay author Tom Horton, Bay photographer David Harp, bald eagle and golden eagle presentations, Eagle Prowls, children’s activities, and a special nature photography seminar with Jim Clark from “Outdoor Photographer” magazine. Visit our Eagle Festival web page for all the details, including driving directions.

Bald eaglet by Craig Koppie - from Inside a Bald Eagle's Nest

Bald eaglet by Craig Koppie – from Inside a Bald Eagle’s Nest

One additional special event we’ll have on Saturday is something that I wanted to mention for our cam watchers. Many of you might remember U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service raptor specialist Craig Koppie. He was the person who visited our nest in 2005 to remove the middle eaglet, so it could participate in the Vermont Bald Eagle Restoration Initiative. He was also the person who visited the nest a couple years ago when our two eaglets were killed by an intruder. Craig has published a book with local author Teena Ruark Gorrow called “Inside a Bald Eagle’s Nest: A Photographic Journey through the American Bald Eagle Nesting Season.” Craig and Teena will be at the Festival to talk about the book, and you’ll be able to buy a copy there (and on our Eagle Store web page). The book offers some of the most amazing close-ups you’ll see of young bald eagles (such as the photo posted here), and it offers wonderful facts and insights into the behaviors of nesting bald eagles. We’re very excited to have Craig and Teena at the Festival, so be sure to come out and hear them speak — and pick up a copy of their book!

And now, onto our chicks. Our third egg was a dud — the first time we’ve had that happen since going live in 2004 — but it’s not terribly unusual for an egg not to hatch. It is noteworthy that our female lost a third chick last year (another first), so maybe our female is getting a bit older and isn’t quite up to producing three healthy chicks any longer. We’ll just have to wait and see.

But our two eaglets are doing well, and we’ve enjoyed watching our younger eaglet do his best to position himself near the food.

In the clip below — produced by one of our cam watchers — you see some aggression from the older chick, which is very common. The best part of being the older chick is you’re bigger, so you can bully other chicks in the nest. The older chick will sometimes peck the younger bird on the head, which makes him act submissive and put his head down, and this allows the older chick to have an easier time getting most of the food.

But sometimes the younger chick is the one who does the pecking. We taped this clip on March 1, and you can see the younger chick trying to peck at the older bird as he feeds. The younger chick doesn’t accomplish much by doing this, but it’s kind of funny to see him trying to be the aggressor.

And in this last video, also from March 1, we see the younger bird get in front of the older chick in order to get a better position at mealtime. Sometimes this will lead to the older chick pecking the younger one on the back of the head, but in this sequence at least, the older chick lets the younger stay in place and get some nice bites.

We know it’s hard to watch the younger bird get less during some meals, but this is the way eagle nests work. The good news is that although our younger bird is smaller (and will stay that way for a while, since he’s getting smaller meals), he is healthy, and later this spring he will be a full-grown eagle.

One final note: We did have a couple folks ask when we’ll zoom the camera out. We have seen that our chicks are becoming more mobile. Once they are regularly climbing out of the nest cup and out of our view, we’ll go out to the woods and zoom the camera back, so we can see them when they get around the edge of the nest. Sometimes they get really close to the edge, but the parents keep an eye on them, and we’ve never lost an eaglet by having it fall out of the nest.

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

Categories: blackwater nwr, eagle cam, eaglet | 1 Comment

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