May 18, 2006

Fledgling Explorer

Nest Update: First, I want to share some news from Jerry McKenna -- our photographer friend who had been following the one-chick eagles' nest in Illinois and whose photography I have been posting in my web log.

Jerry told me this morning that the eaglet has perished. Nest watchers found it at the bottom of the nest tree. They're not sure what happened at this point, but the 8-week-old eaglet was getting big, so there's a possibility it was flapping and was blown out prematurely. Or possibly it just fell out while leaning or standing on the edge. Jerry said they've been having strong winds lately. This was very sad news for us here, as we felt like we knew the eaglet through Jerry's amazing photos.

Unfortunately, this drives home the lesson that it's a dangerous world out there, and many eaglets perish before they can become white-headed, breeding adults. This also makes us appreciate the success we've enjoyed at our Eagle Cam, where we've had two seasons without any deaths. We're very fortunate in that regard.

Below is a final photo of the eaglet (click on the thumbnail). You can find more fantastic photos at Jerry's online gallery, and also at the online gallery of Doug Bentlage, a friend of Jerry's and another talented photographer who was also following the same eagle family. Thanks to both of them for offering this lasting record of the eaglet's brief life.

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As for our eaglets, it appeared that Monday night one of the eaglets -- probably the oldest, Nause -- fledged from the nest. Throughout the day on both Tuesday and Wednesday, the eaglet was in and out a lot, occasionally returning to the nest where Waiwash was waiting. During this time we also saw an eagle parent (probably the mother) feeding them both.

We congratulate Nause on this momentous occasion! Many eaglets do not survive their first flight for various reasons, so we were very happy to see the eaglet return successfully after the outing on Monday. Nause is now a fledgling, and we believe that very soon Waiwash will be one, too.

Cam watchers have asked what Nause might be doing while out of the nest for long periods. Although the eaglets instinctively know how to fly and even fish, these are skills that must be developed and fine tuned. Many eaglets die their first winter because they are not proficient at hunting and fishing for themselves. So between now and the coming winter, the eaglets will spend much of their time learning to scavenge dead food, learning to capture live food, learning to read and master the wind, learning to land safely, and learning how to interact with other creatures in their world.

flap23.jpgSo even though Nause is flying, the eaglet is still very dependent on the parents for food, and will continue getting meals from them for possibly another six weeks -- both on and off the nest.

Another cam watcher asked if the eaglets that went to Vermont can learn to fly and fish without parents around to show them. Last year, Craig Koppie -- our raptor biologist -- said that yes, the eaglets can learn all these things even without the parents. While our eaglets here will likely spend time watching the parents -- and also their sibling -- and observing how they fly and fish, it is not absolutely necessary to have an adult around for the eaglet to learn and master these necessary skills. The birds' built-in instincts will help them on their way. As for food, the folks in Vermont will leave food out for the fledgling eaglets until they can provide for themselves.

So as our eaglets begin exploring their world, where exactly are they going? Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge is a very beautiful and bountiful place for a young eagle to explore. At this time of year, there are many other eagles and ospreys about, so the young birds will get their first taste of interacting with other raptors.

The Blackwater River is the main body of water within the Refuge, and the eaglets will spend a good deal of time perching near it and fishing in it over the upcoming months. What makes Blackwater Refuge a popular place for eagles (and ospreys) is that the local waters are very shallow, and since both eagles and ospreys get their fish near the surface, the waters offer a habitat that suits their fishing styles. Also the Refuge has plenty of safe nesting areas and a healthy food population. Below are four photos that give you an idea as to where our eagles like to hang out. Click on the thumbnails.

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In the first shot, two adult eagles are perched over the Blackwater River and its marshes; the nearest tree is one that the eagles frequently choose for perching when near the Wildlife Drive. In the second photo, an adult eagle is perched on an empty osprey water platform. In the third shot, a perched eagle in the distance overlooks a fall scene where migrating geese fill the marshes. And in the final shot, the sun sets over a group of trees where immature bald eagles like to hang out together and watch for an easy meal in the river below.

Many of the adult eagles at Blackwater Refuge do not migrate because when winter comes and the fish are hard to find, the eagles can turn to eating small mammals and waterfowl. But many of the immature eagles will eventually leave the area once they become independent, as young eagles like to roam for several years before they reach breeding age. Once they are ready to start their own families, they will likely return to this area and begin looking for a nesting tree and a mate.

Until next time,
Lisa - webmaster
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Posted by Webmaster at May 18, 2006 09:08 AM