feathers

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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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
Support the Blackwater Cams
Contact Us

Categories: eagle cam, eaglet, feathers | Leave a comment

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