April 26, 2006

Contest Results

award.gifWe want to thank everyone who participated in our 2006 Eaglet-Naming Contest. In case you didn't see the announcement, Nause and Waiwash (pronounced nah-soo and WAY-wash) were the winning names, although the vote was very close among several of the choices. The Nause-Waiwash Indian tribe is native to the Blackwater region, so we were proud to have these names used for our eaglets. You can read more about the tribe on the Announcement page.

We chose a prize winner from all the participants' email addresses, so that everyone would have a fair shot at winning, and our winner was Jess M., a soon-to-be 10-year-old from West Virginia. Jess will be celebrating a birthday on April 30, so we were very happy to be able to provide a Blackwater birthday gift. :-)

Jess recently visited Blackwater Refuge and after returning home, chose the names Chinook and Zephyr for our eaglets. Those names were very popular with many other contest participants, and they almost won.

We thank Jess and all our contest participants for helping us select the names of the eaglets. And we hope our cam watchers will stick around and help us name the osprey chicks in a couple months.

Nest Update

flapping12.jpgAs our cam watchers know, at the beginning of the week we had a slight technical problem. We think we had a corroded connector, and it was interfering with the image transmission. Keeping our cam equipment operating in the field is always a challenge because of the harsh conditions -- such as the huge amount of rain we received last weekend. We're just glad that our recent problem was ground-based and was not with the eagle camera itself.

The eaglets continue to make good progress with their flapping exercises and perching practice. Several cam watchers have asked if the eaglets will take their first flight around the same time. Since Nause is the oldest, and has been ahead in development throughout the eaglets' time at the nest, we would expect Nause to fly first. Waiwash -- the youngest -- has not been perching quite as much, so it might take a little longer for the youngest to make the leap.

However, it's likely that seeing Nause fly off and leave the nest will provide strong motivation for the youngest to get out there and fly as well.

Other Eagles

A couple interesting notes about eagles besides our own: Around the Channel Islands off California, folks are very excited these days because bald eagles are finally beginning to make a comeback. From the 1940s to the 1970s, millions of pounds of DDT and PCBs were discharged from industrial sources into the ocean near Los Angeles. In 1972, Congress banned the use of DDT but not its production. Bald eagle populations then rebounded across the U.S. except in the Southern California area.

DDT is a problem for fish-eating raptors because the fish become contaminated with the pesticide, and after an eagle or osprey eats a large enough amount of fish, the pesticide accumulates in the raptor's system -- a process known as biomagnification.

Once a bald eagle or osprey has enough DDT in its system, the pesticide's breakdown product -- DDE -- begins to inhibit the production of calcium for the bird's eggshells, and the eggshells come out too thin. The end result is often an eggshell so thin that it cracks when the parents sit on it, ending the life of the chick inside.

In mid-April of this year, biologists discovered that on Santa Cruz Island (part of the Channel Islands), a pair of bald eagles hatched a chick for the first time in more than fifty years. Not long after, the biologists found a second egg on the island, so hopes are high that the eagles might be making a comeback after all this time. On the Channel Islands' eagle website, you can see video clips of one of the chicks with its parents.

Also on the Channel Islands' eagle website is an excellent photo of an eaglet about a week younger than our own eaglets. Seeing the eaglet next to a human gives our cam watchers a good perspective on how big our eaglets are now.

And on another eagle note: Jerry McKenna -- our photographer friend from Illinois -- is still following his local eagle nest where they have one young chick. Jerry recently added several funny new photos to his online gallery. I especially like the shots below; click on the thumbnails to see a larger version. And much thanks again to Jerry for sharing these spectacular photos with us:

gmeagle1 gmeagle2
gmeagle3 gmeagle4

In an upcoming log post, we'll talk about the current effort underway to remove the bald eagle from the Endangered Species List, and how you can submit your comments to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regarding this major change in the bald eagle's protection.

Until next time,
Lisa - webmaster

Posted by Webmaster at 06:36 PM

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 06:46 PM

April 18, 2006

Cam Watcher Questions

A Gallery note: In case someone didn't read my last post in the Osprey Cam Web Log, I am now asking cam watchers to send their cam gallery photos to a different email address. Please send all cam gallery submissions to blackwatercam@gmail.com

You can read the Osprey Cam Web Log if you'd like a full explanation regarding the change in addresses. The old address will still work, but I prefer you use the new address now.

flapping11.jpgCam Watcher Questions

I had planned to discuss "first flights" in this web log entry, but I realized I had received quite a few questions in the last week, and I should post the answers in the web log. So I'll save the discussion of flying for the nest post, and instead talk about some of the questions we've been getting.

Why do the eaglets perch so close to the edge?
While we're enjoying our wonderful new view from the Eagle Cam, several cam watchers had commented on the rather alarming way in which the eaglets have been clinging to the edge of the nest lately, sometimes out of our view.

As we get closer to fledging time, we're going to see more of this activity and also some branching, where the eaglets may sit in the branches of their home tree.

Up until recently, the eaglets have been sitting and laying in the nest almost the entire day and night, but they have to develop their talon strength and perching ability, and that is what they are practicing now. You can see in some of the shots how their talons are grasping the sticks, especially when they flap or cling to the edge. These are important exercises, since perching will be one of the most common activities for them as adult eagles. So while it makes our heart stop to see them suddenly clinging to the edge, this is normal behavior for a developing eaglet that will be leaving the nest very soon.

Here is a close-up photo showing how a pre-fledgling eaglet wraps its toes and talons around sticks to remain in place.

Will Craig Koppie still band and sex the eaglets?
I had a couple folks write in to ask if Craig Koppie -- our FWS eagle biologist -- is coming to our nest at all this season. Sadly, the answer is no. Craig really wanted to come so he could band and sex the cam chicks, but his schedule is not going to allow him to come before the eaglets fledge. There is a chance that Craig might come to Blackwater Refuge later this month or early next month to take several of our eaglets for the last year of the Vermont Bald Eagle Restoration Initiative project. But Craig will not be taking any eaglets from our cam nest -- he will likely only be taking eaglets from three-chick nests on the Refuge property.

What happened to Martha?
Another question I was asked about was the status of Martha -- the mother eagle that was violently attacked by another female eagle near the Woodrow Wilson Bridge in the Washington, DC area a couple weeks ago. We hear that they have decided to hold her at TriState Bird Rescue for a little while longer to be sure she is fully recovered. Now that she no longer has chicks to rush home to, they're going to give her a little more time to heal.

Is it normal for eagles to attack other eagles?
After hearing about Martha being attacked by another female bald eagle, one cam watcher asked me if eagles violently attacking other eagles was common. To be honest, I had not heard of such a thing, but then the Washington Post ran an article this week discussing the fact that the Chesapeake Bay bald eagle population is rapidly reaching a saturation point, and this type of behavior will become more common as a growing eagle population begins to compete with rapid shoreline development.

So while the comeback of the Chesapeake Bay bald eagles is a wonderful event, it means eagles will have a harder time finding prime nesting territory that has not already been developed by humans or claimed by other eagles. Competition will increase among the resident eagle population and attacks might become more common. You can read the Washington Post article here: So Many Bald Eagles, So Little Room Left to Nest. You may need to register on their site to access it.

A contest? Nobody told me about a contest?
I want to give a final reminder that the Eaglet-Naming Contest will be ending on April 22. If you haven't already voted, please do so and help us choose names for our 2006 eaglets. You can also win an eagle prize through our random drawing after the contest ends.

By the way, the last day of the contest -- April 22 -- is Earth Day, and a wonderful time to recognize and celebrate all that the earth provides for us. You can find out more about Earth Day, as well as activities around the country and the world, at this website:

Earth Day Network

In the next web log, we'll talk about what can happen when eaglets take that first scary jump out of the nest, and how they go about surviving it.

Until next time,
Lisa - webmaster

Posted by Webmaster at 09:40 AM

April 15, 2006

New View

flapping9.jpgNest Update: As most of our cam watchers know, we had planned to have Craig Koppie -- a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service eagle biologist -- climb our cam tree to adjust our camera and to band and sex the eaglets. Craig's schedule has not allowed him a chance to visit, so this morning we had Ron West, our regular tree climber, make the trip up to fix the cam.

This was the first time that Ron had been near a nest that contained eaglets, so Craig gave him some excellent tips for calming the birds. After Ron climbed the tall loblolly pine tree, he did a great job reassuring the eaglets that everything was fine, and the eaglets were very cooperative. While Ron was at the nest, he moved our cam a bit higher so the eagles -- and especially the soon-to-be-flying eaglets -- will not hit it. He also placed it under a branch with the hope that this will keep the birds from landing on it. After he left, the mother -- which had been flying around -- returned to the nest.

Ron said that when looking at the birds, the youngest eaglet is just a bit smaller than the oldest. He also said they both look like they're the size of big roosters.

Our eaglets are now seven weeks old. To get an idea of what they would look like up close, here is a photo taken at another eagles' nest that shows a young eaglet that is close to flying age.

The only drawback of not having Craig visit our nest is that we will not get to see the eaglets banded and sexed. But otherwise everything went well this morning, and we are very thankful to Ron for making such an adventurous climb on our behalf.

In the coming weeks, we hope to see the eaglets flapping their wings more and eventually making short hop flights around the nest. Then as they get closer to flying, we would expect to see them sitting in the branches -- an activity rightly called "branching." After that, we will be on the lookout for any cam images that show one of the birds clearly gone from the nest.

First flights are not only an exciting and momentous moment, but also a potentially dangerous one. Some flapping eaglets are blown out of the nest prematurely, and some do not survive their first flight due to crashes or dangerous landings.

In the next web log, we'll talk more about the hazards and rewards of the eaglet's first flight.

We thank Ron again for his terrific job this morning. And I also want to thank all our cam watchers for their patience as we worked on our camera mount problems. We appreciate your continued loyalty to our cam and to our website. We'll update the Gallery next week.

Until next time,
Lisa - webmaster

Posted by Webmaster at 06:25 PM

April 11, 2006

Other Eagles

Cam watchers have been writing in to ask about the bald eagles at the Woodrow Wilson Bridge here in the Washington, DC area. As many know, an intruder female attacked the mother eagle -- named Martha -- which was sitting on eggs about to hatch at their nest near the bridge, and the injured mother was taken to a local raptor center for rehabilitation. One chick hatched, and the father, George, was trying to keep it warm and feed it by himself.

We hear today that George is no longer tending the nest and is starting to hang around with the intruder female. Sadly it appears the chick did not make it. Unfortunately, the chick never really caught a break in its short life with its mother being attacked and then with the horribly bad weather we had on Saturday -- with lots of rain and chilly temperatures. It would have been very hard for George to keep the chick dry and warm while also going out to retrieve food.

The good news is that Martha is recovering quickly. They hope to release her soon, although they are not sure where they will release her at this point. Releasing her in the same area might be inviting another attack, so the eagle experts will have to decide what is best for Martha. You can read more about George and the chick here, and more about Martha's recovery here.

Craig Koppie -- our eagle expert at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service -- has been helping with the evaluation of George, Martha, and the nest. Craig has also been busy with interviews for the news media, so we're not sure right now when he will be coming to our nest.

One cam watcher asked if we had to wait for Craig or if there was anyone else who could go up our nest tree. We could have our regular tree climber go up, but the best he could do is just move the cam. We are hoping that Craig will brace the camera so it doesn't get moved again this spring, and Craig also wants to band and possibly sex the chicks, so we'd like to give him that opportunity.

Our regular tree climber is not accustomed to encountering eaglets when he visits the nest, and Craig has been up countless raptor trees, so he is specially trained to deal with the youngsters, who are rather large now and could be quite formidable if agitated. We would really like to have Craig be the person who visits at this point.

Speaking of our chicks, the youngest has really progressed in its feather development, and seems to be almost as dark as the oldest. The chicks are seven weeks old this week, and each day they are getting stronger in their flapping and movement around the nest.

In upcoming web log posts, we'll talk more about what might be in store for our eaglets when they take their first flight into the world.

A couple reminders: We updated the Eagle Gallery yesterday -- much thanks to everyone who sent in photos. And we've started our Eaglet-Naming Contest, which is being hosted by our partner site, WildCam.com. You have to register to enter, but it's free and they won't share your email address. After the contest ends, we'll randomly select an email address from the participants, and that person will receive a special eagle gift from our Eagle's Nest Gift Store at the Refuge.

And finally, since we're a bit sad about George and Martha's eaglet not making it, I wanted to share some wonderful photos from our new photographer friend, Jerry McKenna. Jerry has been monitoring an eagle nest in Alton, Illinois, where they just had a chick hatch. Click on the thumbnails below to check out Jerry's photos showing the new chick -- which definitely puts a smile on your face. And you can see more photos of the new chick here.

gm2006eaglet_th.jpg gm2006eaglet2_th.jpg

Until next time,
Lisa - webmaster

Posted by Webmaster at 08:28 AM

April 07, 2006

Day in the Life

pairNest Update: As we mentioned on the cam page, Craig Koppie had to delay his visit to recenter our cam today because of an incident at a local bald eagle nest at which Craig thought he might be asked to assist. We haven't heard at this point what happened with the nest, but if we do, we'll pass it along. Right now, we're hoping to see Craig next week. Thanks for everyone's patience as we try to coordinate our schedules with Craig's schedule and the weather. Fortunately the eaglets at our nest have been spending part of their day hanging around the trunk, so at least we get to see them.

Craig did mention that if he is able to come, he would like to sex and band the chicks, if possible. So that would be an added bonus of him visiting.

Speaking of local eagle nests, a cam watcher forwarded me a link to the Norfolk Botanical Garden website in Virginia where they have still photos from their eagle cam. The eagle cam can only be seen at the gardens, but be sure to check out the amazing photos on their site. And if you're near Norfolk, check out the gardens as well, and you can see the cam live.

And a note about our Eaglet-Naming Contest: We plan to go live with the contest very soon. I'll post a link on the cam page when we're ready to start.

A Day in the Life

As those who watch our Eagle Cam know, a day in the life of the eagle family now involves mostly eating, sleeping and flapping. Each day the eaglets develop more of the feathers that will help them become fledglings in about four to six weeks. Throughout the day we are fortunate to catch glimpses that show how the eagle family makes a nest into a home.

For example, we've recently seen some shots showing how the eaglets back up to the nest edge to slice -- which, as we mentioned before, is a falconer's term for defecating. We've also seen a parent eagle bringing in pine needles to add to the nest -- this is often done to freshen the nest and bury old food remains. And speaking of food remains, we've also seen shots of the eaglets digging for leftovers to snack on between meals.

Each day more of the eaglets' time is spent flapping and exercising their wings. This activity will become more common as we see them get closer to fledging. At this early stage, they hold onto the nest with their talons when they flap, so they don't go anywhere. But once they are stronger, they will let go of the nest and let themselves rise a little in the air. Eventually they will start making hop flights around the nest.

In our cam photos, we've also seen the ever-popular mealtime -- surely the best part of the eaglets' day. One of the cam watchers asked if the eagles eat at night. We hadn't really seen much of that activity until recently, when cam watchers caught several photos of a late-night feeding session, probably with some leftover fish. So it does appear that the eaglets may catch a late meal even after dark.

And finally, we've seen how the family handles a storm. On Monday night, Maryland had a big storm move through -- this was the same storm pattern that had brought deadly tornadoes to the Midwest. While the storm was still a couple hours off, the eaglets were relaxed and lying alone near the trunk of the tree. But as the strong winds and rain picked up, the mother eagle came down into the nest, and the eaglets stayed close to her until the storm weakened.

All in all, our Eagle Cam has shown us some wonderful moments in the eagles' lives. We feel fortunate to have a glimpse into their daily activities, and we thank our cam watchers for capturing many of these moments for us to share. We'll update the Eagle Gallery on Monday.

Until next time,
Lisa - webmaster

Posted by Webmaster at 06:17 PM

April 03, 2006


flapNest Update: This week the eaglets will be six weeks old, and we're starting to see more adult-like behavior from them. For example, we're starting to see the eaglets standing a little better and moving around the nest more, as well as tearing off some of their own food.

As for how they look, here are a couple good comparison shots: The first photo compares how they looked right after their birth in late February with how they look now in early April. In the April photo, notice the current differences in their tail feathers -- the youngest is a little behind in tail growth.

And in the second photo we see how the wings of the mother differ from the oldest eaglet's wings, which are getting fuller every day. We would expect the chicks' first flight to occur around 9-13 weeks of age.

On a slightly different topic: We will be starting our chick-naming contest sometime in the next couple weeks. This year, we thought we'd try something a little different in that we're going to post several sets of names and let our cam watchers vote on them. At the time you vote, you will also be able to enter your email address, and then at the end of the contest we will have a random drawing for a prize from our Blackwater Refuge gift store. We'll announce the start of the contest in an upcoming web log.

And finally, we want to share a photo that one of our cam watchers kindly forwarded to us. Florence Keith of Battleboro, North Carolina happened to spot this bald eagle nest and was able to catch a shot with the eagle on it. It's always interesting to see different types of eagle nests up close. Thanks to Florence for sharing this with us!


It might seem a little late in the season to be talking about eagle mating considering that the two eagle parents now have six-week-old chicks in the nest, but I had the good fortune last week to have an eagle photographer loan me an eagle mating photo.

Gerald McKenna, whose gallery link I posted not long ago, pointed out that he had an eagle mating photo on his site. We've had a few off-angle mating photos in our Eagle Cam gallery, but this photo was special in that it offers such a clear view. Much thanks to Gerald for this unique look at something many eagle lovers never see in the wild.

When talking to people about bald eagles, it's not uncommon to hear the story repeated that bald eagles will mate in the air, with talons locked, as they're free-falling to earth. While it is true that bald eagles will engage in dramatic aerial displays when courting, the real mating or copulation occurs on the nest or in a tree -- not in the air.

As for the bald eagles' aerial displays during courtship, most of them are very impressive. One is called the cartwheel display, where the eagles will fly high, lock talons, and then cartwheel to earth, only breaking apart at the last moment before they hit the ground or water. Another is the chase display, where after chasing each other they will lock talons and roll together. And finally there is the roller-coaster display, where an individual eagle will fly high, fold its wings, then plummet down, only to swoop up at the last minute to avoid hitting the earth. While these aerial activities are certainly captivating to watch, eagle biologists report that the ritual of building the nest together is probably more powerful in securing a tight bond between the pair.

Another point to remember is that not every cartwheel display is courtship behavior. Cartwheeling is also often associated with aggression and defense of a territory. Sometimes eagles will grab at a competitor's talons or even lock talons and plummet to earth with the other bird as a form of battle and intimidation.

On the ARKive wildlife website, they have an interesting video of two European white-tailed eagles (the closest relative to our bald eagle) performing an aerial display. The video gives you a good look at the talon-grabbing and cartwheeling behavior. Go to the site to view or download the video (it's a 5MB download). The downloaded movie plays better.

Until next time,
Lisa - webmaster

Posted by Webmaster at 06:54 PM