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.
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.
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.
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.