We’ve announced the winner of our 2014 Eaglet-Naming Contest. We won’t give it away here, so please check out the contest page for all the details. And thanks so much to all those who sent in their names this year — we had a wonderful selection of entries! It was a shame we could only choose two.
Our eaglets are nine weeks old, and they’re nearing the time when they’ll begin branching. Branching is when they’ll hop out onto the branches of their nest tree and practice perching and holding their wings up to the wind. This will be the last step in their development before taking their first flight.
But in the meantime, the eaglets are spending a lot of time flapping and hopping around the nest. Their wingspan is close to adult size, which can range from 6-8 feet depending on the gender and location of the eagle (Alaska bald eagles tend to be larger than our Mid-Atlantic eagles).
In the video below, you can see both eaglets testing out their wings. Notice how they sometimes hold their wings out to get the feel of the wind moving over them — this is practice for when they’ll be flying through the air and using the wind to manipulate their flight. Also note how they use their talons to grip the nest — this is to prevent a gust of wind from accidentally taking them out of the nest before they’re ready. As you can see in the video, when the eaglets are flapping, it’s hard to avoid getting smacked in the head with a wing, so this is one of the reasons why the parents don’t spend as much time on the nest. It’s getting too crowded!
Now that the eaglets are almost fully grown, they’re also becoming much more aggressive at mealtime, but not with each other — with the poor parent who brings in the food. The eaglets are now at the size where they can literally rip the food out of the parent’s talons, sometimes nipping the parent’s “toes” in the process. In the video below, you can see an example of this.
The funny thing is, after the eaglets grab the food away, they often just stand there and wait for the parent to feed it to them. In fact, in the past week we’ve seen some photos on the cam of the eaglets standing over fish that the parent has dropped off, but they don’t eat it — they wait for the parent to come back and feed them, even though the chicks are definitely capable of feeding themselves at this point. Teenagers!
In addition to flapping, one of the other tasks our eaglets are becoming acquainted with is preening. A bald eagle has to keep its feathers in good shape in order to fly and to have protection from the elements. Eagles use their beaks to remove food and debris from their feathers, and to tidy them up. They also take oil from a gland at the base of their tail and rub that through their feathers to ensure the feathers remain waterproof.
Besides preening, eagles also keep their feathers in good shape by molting (shedding old feathers and growing new ones). Over the next 4-5 years, the eaglets’ feathers will slowly transition to the adult plumage of an all-white head and tail. Once they have their adult feathers, they will likely molt their flight feathers about every year, but these feathers will not molt all at the same time. Matched flight feathers are usually lost at different times, so the eagle is never without the ability to fly. An eagle depends on flight for feeding itself and its young, so going without flight is never an option.