Branching Eaglets

One eaglet feedingI went to Blackwater Refuge on Saturday to record some video from the Eagle Cam because it was clear that the eaglets were branching (out of sight) and possibly flying. Based on what I saw on Saturday, it looked like both Glider (our older chick) and Chaser were both seriously branching but not yet flying. However, Glider looked very close to flying and on Sunday we saw a meal at the nest where she didn’t make an appearance — which is rare — so it’s possible she’s flying by now.

In addition to seeing a one-chick meal, we’re also seeing images where only one eaglet is in the nest at night. As the chicks mature, they will start roosting in the tree like their parents, rather than lying in the nest. Roosting in the trees is how eagles prefer to spend their nights, and we even have some forests at the Refuge where eagles like to roost together in a group (those that aren’t defending a nest or watching over young).

If you watch the video below, you’ll see Chaser flying around the nest, and hopping from branch to branch (they seem to use most of the branches around the nest for perching). Then Glider arrives by hopping down from a branch on the left. You can see in the video how comfortable the eaglets are now in moving from the nest to the branches and back.

You might also notice there are a lot of large sticks in the nest. The eaglets like to play with them. They pounce on them, perch on them, and move them around. They’re definitely a source of entertainment when the chicks are there.

This will be the last video we post of our eaglets this season, but we will keep the Eagle Cam Gallery open, so we can keep an eye on the youngsters and make sure they’re making visits to the nest. Even after they begin flying, they’ll still make the occasional visit to the nest. Throughout the summer, the parents will watch over the eaglets and make sure they get enough food, but then in the fall, the eaglets will become independent, and the parents will begin focusing on a new breeding season at the nest. Once the parents begin preparing the nest for new eggs, they won’t welcome the 2014 eaglets around the nest.

In our next and final blog post, we’ll discuss where the eaglets might go once they become independent.

Until next time,
Lisa – webmaster
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Nine-Week-Old Eaglets

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.

Bald eagle preening

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.

Until next time,
Lisa – webmaster
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Mantling Eaglet

Blackwater eaglet mantlingWe wanted to provide an update on our eaglets — Talon and Soar. Talon seems to be flying. We’ve seen him disappear and reappear quickly numerous times, and he’s been absent for long periods, sometimes even when food is brought to the nest. Soar has been branching, but he doesn’t appear to be in a hurry to fly — even at 12 weeks old.

We did catch a photo today of Soar mantling a meal that was brought to the nest by a parent, and it looked like Soar was super hungry. Mantling is a raptor behavior where a bird protects its food by spreading its wings and body over the meal to prevent another bird from getting it. It’s possible the parents are bringing fewer meals to the nest to encourage Soar to fly, and at some point it will work and get Soar to make the big leap.

We also wanted to mention that we haven’t panned the camera up because Soar is still in the nest, but once both eaglets are flying, we’ll pan the camera up so our cam watchers can see more of the nest branches. Over time the eaglets will be spending less time in the nest itself and more time flying or sitting on the branches.

We have some other interesting eaglet action going on at Blackwater Refuge right now. On our Facebook page recently, someone posted a great photo from the eagle nest at the end of our Wildlife Drive, where we discovered we now have three eaglets — not two, as originally thought. I encourage you to check out our Facebook page to see some of the great photos folks are sharing from around the Refuge. You don’t need a Facebook account to see our page or view the photos, and it’s a great way to see the latest wildlife action at the Refuge.

Thanks to all those who have been sending in their photos for the Eagle Cam Gallery. We appreciate them, since we’re not always watching at just the right time to catch interesting action — like Soar mantling.

Until next time,
Lisa – webmaster
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