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June 8, 2015 / mws

2015 Codorus State Park Bald Eagles – Part 2

This is Part 2 of the 2015 story of an eagle family in Hanover, PA.

All images are courtesy of the PA Game Commission live feed.

Codorus Eagle family

Codorus Eagle family

It was great to watch in early April as the eaglets were guarded and fed by both parents. It was a bit nerve-wracking when Hanna first left the nest and the Codi and Val were on their own while Mom took a break. The eaglets were expected to add 1 pound to their body weight every 4-5 days. It was evident that this was truly happening with Codi and Val. Their growth was phenomenal.

Hanna with eaglets

Hanna with eaglets

By Easter, (April 5) Hanna could barely keep Val and Codi tucked under her body. As they grew, they would sleep in the sun on the open nest or partially tucked under Mom. Both eaglets started to get darker in color and the beginnings of downy feathers were noticeable on their bodies.

By mid April, Val and Codi started flapping their wings and pushing themselves around the nest whenever they had a chance. Both eaglets tried to grab a fish from the side of the nest, but Hanna would not allow the eaglets to try to bite it on their own. I assume this had to do with digestion. The eaglets also were venturing to the edge of the nest, making the eagle watchers very nervous.

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It was very entertaining to watch Hanna and Hershey bring in a variety of food to the nest. There were rabbits, squirrels, a groundhog, a skunk, birds, and of course, many fish. One day, Hershey brought in an American coot which looks somewhat like a duck. Hershey, using his talons and beak, made quick work of defeathering lunch and left a massive pile of feathers.

Coot Feathers

Coot Feathers & standing on rabbit

Another popular image was the day of the skunk delivery. I never did see any of the eagles try to eat the skunk, so there are various theories about the addition to the nest. One of the eagle watchers thought that the skunk odor would keep any predators from the nest, so Codi and Val would be safe. During early and mid April, the nest was littered with fish as the parents would often layer the nest with fish and grass. Then whenever Hanna needed food, she would just pull one out of the “pantry”.

Growing Up

Growing Up

As time moved forward, the visual changes in the eaglets seemed to take place overnight. According to my research here is the explanation: At three or four weeks, the eaglet is covered in its secondary coat of gray down. In another two weeks or so, black juvenile feathers will begin to grow in. While downy feathers are excellent insulators, they are useless as air foils, and must be replaced with juvenile feathers before an eaglet can take its first flight, some 10 to 13 weeks after hatching.

During the last weeks of April, there were times when the eaglets would completely spread out their wings and major flapping would occur. Their color changed from a medium gray to a deep charcoal with fluffy overtones of gray. They would stand awkwardly and walk around the nest and try to tear off some fish bites on their own.

Val in front

Val in front

One of the eaglets was larger from day one. From my research, I assumed it was the first born female, Val. By the end of April, Val was about 1/2 the size of the parents…amazing! By the last week of April, more changes were stunningly evident. Watchers could see personality developments. Val remained the dominant eaglet, always needing to be fed first, flapping her wings often and just needing to be the center of attention. Codi remained submissive, calm and seemed content to rest more and not get too excited.

After the outburst

After the outburst

On Wednesday, April 29, 2015, I took a lot screenshots since it was a lovely sunny day. The next day was similar, but when I opened the HDonTap site, the screen was extremely blurry. One of the eaglets has hit the lens with an “outburst”! It was bound to happen since the little ones eliminate frequently. It is amusing to watch as they practically stand on their heads and back up and “boom” out comes the stream!!

Thursday, April 30 was a bittersweet day as it became possible that our days of random eaglet watching with a crystal clear view were at an end. There were hopes of Mother Nature assisting with rain predictions. However, the lens is dime sized and covered by a hood, so a natural assist seemed unlikely. Thursday evening we did indeed get the predicted rain and it was much more intense than expected.

One clear spot

One clear spot

Friday, May 1, there were a few small sections of the screen that were visible. But mostly, it was still clouded over with grimy eaglet poo! The let down was enormous! Many of the eagle watchers were so saddened to think that they might not get to see the first flight of the eaglets.

The first weeks of May were challenging. Thankfully, the PA Game Commission declared that it would not interfere with Mother Nature and the lens could only be cleared by natural actions. Fortunately, the Spring rains and the change in the overnight temperature offered a gradual clearing. As May progressed, there were spots in the circle of vision where the images were clear! Watchers were very encouraged!

Even in the short time that the view was blurry, the changes were stunning. No longer fluffy babies, the eaglets were now much darker in color and their juvenile feathers were evident. They ate voraciously, slept intermittently and pranced and flapped around the nest at will. At times there was vigorous hopping and the talons were lifted off the ground. Excitement abounded! The eaglets could now tear up some of their own food. The nest was very crowded when all four birds ate in the nest at the same time. The eaglets were nearly the size of Hanna and Hershey and couldn’t get enough to eat.

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Val and Codi seemed to have favorite places on the nest. To keep cool, they edged as close to the rim of the nest as possible. Both eaglets sought out the shadiest spot they could find in the nest. Val, in particular, liked to find the highest point on the nest rim, especially if there was a breeze. With a body temperature of 106 degrees, the eaglets needed to stay as cool as possible.

One day, Val “discovered” the camera. I was watching at the time and was nervous when she picked up a cord from the camera. She only held it in her mouth for a brief second, but it could have been a disaster. Val got extremely close to the camera lens, making me wonder if she could see a reflection. Both eaglets were now mastering the “eagle pose” and starting to earn the title of majestic.

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By the last week of May, the lens had cleared significantly and the eagle watchers were impatiently waiting for branching to occur. This occurs when Codi and Val take their first mini-flight to a nearby branch. Eagles learn and make in-nest flights several weeks before actually flying.  Fledging occurs when an eaglet has taken it’s first flight away from the nest.

This is a crucial stage for the young birds as some try to fly too early, especially if startled by predators and people who get too close to the nest. If the first flight is not successful, a young eagle may spend time on the ground exposed to predators and other hazards.

On June 1st, Val got brave enough to scoot out on a branch and start flapping her wings. It was an exciting moment for all the eagle watchers. Codi was very nervous about Val’s branching. At first Codi would tug at Val’s feathers and it was evident that he was not comfortable with Val’s pending independence.

Hanna feeding Codi

Hanna feeding Codi

Codi continued to be “shy” and ate considerably less than his sister. Codi seemed most comfortable in the nursery (nest) with Mom or Val close by. Both eaglets were actively flapping their wings and jumping, but Codi rested more and was content to watch his sister’s antics. When Val jumped out to the branch, Codi liked to be very near and keep and “eagle eye” on Val.

What amazing growth!!

What amazing growth!!

In early June, Codi and Val, except for their color, resembled the parents. As juvenile bald eagles mature, their head and tail feathers gradually turn white, and their eyes and beak gradually turn yellow. It takes about 5 years to completely mature to the iconic eagle image.

Eaglet gets mad

Eaglet gets mad

June 5th brought another new development. An adult eagle came onto the nest when Codi and Val were feeding on a fish. Immediately, both eaglets completely fluffed out their feathers and Val became aggressive and shoved the adult eagle off the nest.

There was a lot of speculation by the eagle watchers about this situation. Some thought that this was not a parent, but an intruder. The adult returned a few more times and the eaglets again became defensive. Val and Codi were on the alert for the rest of the day. It was interesting to see their capable defense and their protection of the nest and each other.

Mantling-Adult on branch at right

Mantling – adult on branch at right

After some eagle research, I discovered that this behavior is labeled mantling. Mantling is the action of hunching shoulders and spreading wings over a recent kill to conceal it from other birds and predators who would be potential thieves. While mantling, the feeding birds may exhibit other nervous behavior including frequent looks at the surrounding area to scan for intruders or shuffling feet to readjust the mantling cover.

Evening meal at peace

Evening meal at peace

By late evening on June 5th, Hanna and Hershey, along with Codi and Val were all on the nest to share a last meal of the day. The birds were all eating and at times, Codi and Val were being fed by both parents. It was a satisfying end to an eventful day. We may never know if the eaglets were just exhibiting a new behavior to their parents, or if there was an intruder in the nest.

The eaglets behavior was fascinating to watch. They often watched and copied the actions of their parents.  Here’s a good example of one particular action that I caught.  (just a coincidence, I know, but it was fun to capture this!)

Hanna...and Val

Hanna poses and then 2 months later, Val copies!!!

Shortly after 7AM on Monday, June 8, 2015, Val got very jumpy and took a mini-flight to a branch in the area of the camera.  In doing so, the camera angle was readjusted and just Val’s side feathers were visible as she rested on her “new branch”.  Only one edge of the nest, the tree trunk, and part of the camera could be seen at this point. Our eagle watching was negatively impacted, even though this was a very exciting moment of independence for Val.

Codi and Val have to learn how to hunt, and though they have the instinct to hunt, they only have the remainder of the summer to learn. They will watch and vocalize as Hanna and Hershey hunt for prey. Previous eagle watchers have stated that young eagles seem to spend more time looking at prey than they do actually attacking it.

Through snow, rain, sleet, fog, heat, and natural accidents, the eaglets have survived guided by magnificent parents. It was a thrill to watch their day to day activities at the nest. A huge thank you goes out to the PA Game Commission and all those involved in making this project possible.

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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


Leave a Comment
  1. Suzanne Wickett / Jun 21 2015 11:58 am

    Thank You is just not enough to say , words to small , for such huge deed ~ check out the counter as to how many comments were made ! That’s how many peoples lives you touched by giving us the ability to live the lives of Eagles , from the very beginning > This was my very first live cam of any kind, what an experience ~ I have a new appreciation for The American Bald Eagle . I kidded another commenter about being willing to sit in the Hanover nest , bugs and all , she said ‘ewe’ ~ I would still do that . Would Love to see the world as they do , minus the hunting of course , Again to all you make this cam and others possible ~ A VERY HEART FELT THANK YOU !!! ;))

  2. Joan Jones / Jun 8 2015 9:57 am

    Thank you…

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