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April 6, 2015 / mws

2015 Codorus State Park Bald Eagles – Part 1

This is the 2015 story of a pair of nesting eagles in Hanover, PA.  All images are courtesy of the PA Game Commission live feed.

PART 1 of 2

Eagle cam placement

Eagle cam placement

Since 2005, there have been bald eagles in the Codorus State Park area, adding to the thriving eagle population in Pennsylvania.  There have been seven times since 2005 when the Hanover eaglets survived and left the nest.

A live-feed camera (provided by HDOnTap) was installed in late December 2014.  It is through the combined efforts of the PA Game Commission, HDOnTap, Comcast Business, and Friends of Codorus State Park that the live-feed is provided.  It is likely that the camera was placed when the raptors were away from the nest although they could have been watching!  I started watching the live-feed in February and this blog starts there and goes to April 5 2015.

In the general information about the eagle live-feed, the PA Game Commission issues a warning that nature can sometimes be difficult to watch!  I wasn’t exactly sure what this meant for eagles, but more about this later.

Adult eagle

Adult eagle

When a bald eagle reaches adulthood, it has grown 30-40 inches long and weighs 8-14 pounds. With wingspans of 6 to 8 feet, the adult eagle majestically stands about 2 feet tall.

Just like other birds of prey, the female is larger than the male. Since the female is the foremost protector on the nest, her extensive wingspan covers the eaglets in times of danger.

Bald eagles mate for life, but if one partner dies, the other searches for a new mate.

The eagle nest

The eagle nest

An eagle nest is about 5-6 feet wide and about 2 feet high. Often an eagle pair returns to the same nest year after year, providing maintenance and adding a new layer of sticks, corn silk, twigs and moss. When considering the placement of the nest, the eagles choose a large healthy tree with good views of the surrounding area and with a close water source for fishing.

For purposes of this blog, I am going to name the male Eagle “Hershey” and the female eagle “Hanna”.  It was a joy to watch as Hershey and Hanna reconstructed their enormous nest.  I first caught the live feed when the nest was about 90% built, so Hanna and Hershey were adding the finishing touches and building up the edges.

Hershey with nest building material

Hershey with nest building material

One of my observations occurred as I watched Hershey bring in branches and yank them around until they were in a stable position.  When Hershey flew off to get the next material for the nest, Hanna would rearrange the branch to her satisfaction…just like a female!!

Eagle love

Eagle love

During the first part of February, Hanna seemed slightly anxious and would alternate between fussing with the nest and constructing the egg cup. Hershey continued to provide nesting material and the mates displayed open affection.

The first egg appeared on February 14 just before sunset.  What excitement for those of us watching the eagle cam!   A second egg was laid three days later on February 17 in the late afternoon.  Both Hershey and Hanna would take turns providing incubation.  Every time that there was a nest exchange, the eggs lay there and the excitement mounted.

guarding the nest

guarding the nest

Bald eagle nests can be easily disturbed and nest failure can occur if someone gets too close to a nesting area. There was one incident with our Codorus eagles when a TV crew got too close and disturbed the pair. Fortunately, the parents returned after about 1 hour and the Hanover nest was not a failure. All of the webcam watchers were very nervous during this trauma. People should keep their distance from active nests and know that Federal regulations prohibit any intrusion within 660 feet of the nest.

It takes about 35 days for an eagle egg to hatch.  As February morphed into March, Hanna and Hershey continued to take turns on the nest. During one snowstorm, only Hanna’s head could be seen at one point as the snow mounded around her body.

snow nest

snow nest

The countdown to Hatching Day was exciting and everyone was eager to spot the first crack in the egg.  Finally on March 23, the egg started to show a thin line that looked like a crack.

Eaglets are here!!

Eaglets are here!!

On March 24, 2015 little Val (presumed female from the egg that was laid on Valentines Day) was hatched.  The next day Codi was born (presumed male short for Codorus).  It is generally thought that a female eaglet is usually the first born.  For this blog, gender is just an assumption on my part.

Eagle eggs often hatch over several days, and the older eaglet may have an advantage at feeding time. Val was born first and though only one day older than Codi, she displayed great aggression toward her brother.  This was evident time after time as Codi became submissive and Val received more food.  The aggression wasn’t completely consistent, and became non-existent when both Hanna and Hershey would be feeding the eaglets at the same time.  Little Codi learned how to manage at feeding time in order to get fed.  Sometimes that meant squirming forward and sometimes Codi would just wait until Val was full and then it was his turn.

Val and Codi displaying sibling rivalry

Val and Codi displaying sibling rivalry

As the PA Game Commission warned, the sibling rivalry was, at times, difficult to watch.

I have observed various animal species in the wild.  After multiple observations, it is obvious that the female has instinctive self-preservation.  She must survive to carry on the species.  In times of danger from predators or intrusion on her territory, the female becomes a fierce protector and will lash out at any intruder.

eagle calling out

Hanna calling for Hershey

There were several incidents when Hanna would call out for Hershey due to some perceived danger in the area.  Hershey would return to the nest and both would puff out they chests and sometimes expand their wings to protect the young.  At times, there was a noticeable intruder, either another bird or a squirrel.

Hershey proved to be an excellent provider!  He would bring multiple fish each day and an occasional rabbit, squirrel and even a skunk!  Layers of fish would become embedded in the nest and Hanna would root out a meal whenever it suited her.

Hershey, the Provider

Hershey, the Provider, with Hanna and the kids

As the first couple of weeks passed, Val and Codi grew and became mobile.  One day Val inched closer and closer to the edge of the nest.  The next day, more nesting material was brought in to build up the nest edge.

Hershey and Hanna appear to be protective, smart and capable parents. The eaglets are thriving and we look forward to the next step as they strive to become independent. The Eagle webcam has been an excellent resource for nature lovers and a good teaching tool for educators. It has provided many hours of great entertainment for those of us who tune in!  Thanks to the PA Game Commission for allowing us to have this incredible viewing opportunity!!

Hanna and Hershey at sunrise

Hanna and Hershey at sunrise

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I am the eagle, I live in high country
In rocky cathedrals that reach to the sky

And all of those who see me, all who believe in me
Share in the freedom I feel when I fly

-John Denver

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One Comment

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  1. roamingpursuits / Apr 15 2015 5:36 am

    Impressive looking eagles.

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