April 23, 2006

First Flight

Contest: Sorry for the delay in announcing our winning names and winning participant for our Eaglet-Naming Contest. The IT person at WildCam was delayed from a trip, so we hope to have the winning info tomorrow. Unfortunately we need her to access the vote tally, but we hope to have that soon.

Website: I wanted to repeat a message that I posted in the Osprey Cam Web Log regarding a new feature on our website. Over the past year, a number of our cam watchers had expressed an interest in making an online donation to the Friends of Blackwater using their credit cards. We have now added a PayPal donation button to our Support page for those who would like to donate electronically. We thank our supporters who help make our projects -- like the raptor cams -- possible. If you have questions about donating, be sure to also check out our Donation Policy page.

family8.jpgNest Update: We updated the Gallery on Friday, and if you haven't checked it out yet, be sure to do so. We had a lot of interesting photos submitted that let us see how the eaglets are progressing in their development.

For example, we got a great look at one of the eaglet's beautiful wings, and we even saw one of the eaglet's possibly rising a bit in the air while flapping. This can happen when an eaglet is flapping so hard that its feet lift off the nest during the downstroke.

We also saw that the mother is still beak-feeding the chicks even though the young are capable of eating on their own.

We had one photo of a chick balanced nicely on a large branch in the nest, and then we saw both chicks perched together on their favorite end.

Finally we saw that when the eaglets get hungry, they don't hide their feelings but give a major shout-out to mom. We even had a glimpse of one eaglet lunging for mom when she returned with a possible meal. Eagle biologists report that when eaglets this size get really hungry, they've been known to lunge for anything -- including a parent's toe! Some say that is why you don't see dad on the nest as much at this stage. Being the smaller adult, he sometimes has a harder time dealing with the large, aggressive youngsters.

Speaking of hungry eaglets, if you visit the wildlife-themed ARKive website, you can watch a wonderful video showing young white-tailed eaglets (the closest relative to our bald eagle) grabbing mom's fish before she can even let go of it.

[Note: the video plays more smoothly if you choose the "Download" option on their site]

Also notice at the end of this video that the parent eagle is perched above the nest while the eaglets practice their flapping. Another reason why the parents might not spend a lot of time in the nest is because when the eaglets are flapping about, there isn't a lot of space in the nest for the adults.

First Flight

The eaglets will be nine weeks old this week and since many eaglets take their first flight at ten to twelve weeks, we are rapidly heading toward the big moment in their lives. As a lead-up to the flight, there will be much flapping and sitting on support branches -- and these are important exercises that strengthen the eaglets' talons and wings, and help build their confidence. Eagle biologists report that males tend to be more active in this way than the females.

At the ARKive website, they have a great video showing a young white-tailed eaglet performing these activities, and then taking a maiden flight -- which ends up with the eaglet in the water. Fortunately, eagles are good swimmers and many an eaglet has had to swim to shore after his first crash landing.

It's been estimated that one out of seven eaglets fledges prematurely by getting blown out of the nest or by jumping out before it can really fly. When that happens, it might end up on the ground where the parents will feed it until it can fly.

flyingclip.jpgIt's possible that parents will withhold food prior to fledging in order to encourage the youngster to take the jump. But once the eaglet makes the leap, the trick will be surviving the flight and especially the landing. Biologists report that quite a few eaglets perish on their first flight. Last year we had three eaglets, and all survived to become successful fledglings. But sometimes eaglets crash, or land badly, or end up stuck on the ground in an area where the parents are unable to feed them or protect them from land predators.

In the book The Bald Eagle: Haunts and Habits of a Wilderness Monarch (by Jon Gerrard and Gary Bortolotti) the authors recount a humorous story illustrating that landing is often the most difficult part of flight. The authors -- who were observing a bald eagle nest near Bernard Lake in Saskatchewan, Canada -- described the youngest eaglet's attempt to fly back to the home nest.

"Flapping slowly but strongly, C2 cruised past the nest, banked toward shore, and crashed into the canopy of a tree. We could hear the slapping of wings against branches all the way to the blind. When it was over, C2 was hanging upside down from a limb and holding on with just one foot. From out of nowhere the adult male flew in, calling excitedly, and soon perched on a spruce directly above his clumsy offspring. The adult female took off from the nest, circled above C2, and joined in the chorus of cackles. C2, rather calmly, just hung there, occasionally looking from side to side. After three minutes, C2 released his grasp and crashed to the ground."

The authors played the good samaritans and retrieved C2, placing him on a rock near the nest. When they returned the next day, he was perched in a smaller tree near his home nest and he sported a bulging crop, showing that the parents had recently fed him and he was fine.

The first flight is an exciting time because it marks the moment when the eaglets become part of the greater eagle community. It's a momentous occasion in their young lives, and we wish our eaglets the best of luck.

Until next time,
Lisa - webmaster

Posted by Webmaster at April 23, 2006 06:46 PM