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February 19, 2016 / mws

2016 Codorus State Park Bald Eagles – Part 1

This is the 2016 story of a pair of nesting eagles in Hanover, PA.

All images are courtesy of the PA Game Commission and it’s partners.

PART 1  –  Rebuilding the nest and preparing the egg bowl

Since 2005, there have been bald eagles in the Codorus State Park area, adding to the thriving eagle population in Pennsylvania.  There have been eight times since 2005 (including 2015) when the Hanover eaglets survived and left the nest.

New camera angle

New camera angle

A live-feed camera (provided by HDOnTap) was installed in mid December 2015.  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.  For the 2016 season, there are two cameras.  The second camera is an infrared camera, so that there can be night viewing. There is also audio which greatly enhances the viewing experience.

0115 456pm (2)It is generally thought that the eagle parents on the nest are the same pair as in 2015.  Eagles mate for life and work together to provide a safe environment for their growing eaglets.  As in 2015, and 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 again in December 2015 as Hershey and Hanna performed the “nestorations” to ready the nest.

Nest Building

Nest Building

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.

Hanna and Hershey were very affectionate during this time and it was fun to watch as they interacted.  With the addition of the audio, sounds of the eagles were heard with squawking, calling and alert signals.  It was always great to see them in the nest together.

0106 1213pmWhile waiting and watching the empty eagle nest, the audio provided sounds of wind, roosters, cows, gunshots 😦 , train whistles, and other birds. One of most intriguing sounds was the rustling of leaves and branches. I think that this rustling may be from the squirrels in the lower part of the nest. It seems that the bald eagle nest provides a nursery for the eaglets, as well as a home for the squirrels and mice.

0107 1230pmThe squirrels were aggressive in their actions of thievery!  A quick scramble up the side of the nest would bring the squirrel to a market of great materials for his own use.  There was one time when the squirrel was “caught” as an eagle swooped in and forced him from the nest. There were also other visitors to the nest, including the night mouse, lots of other birds and a hawk.

0109 805am

January 10th was National Save the Eagles day. It was a day of lots of rain and wind in 2016. Some species of eagles are on the endangered list. However, due to the work of scientists and the public, the Bald Eagle was removed from this list in June 2007. There are more then 70 species of eagles throughout the world. The only exception is Hawaii, where no species of eagles reside.

0201 909am (3) - CopyEven though the bald eagle is no longer listed on the Endangered List, they are still protected. Bald Eagles are federally protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, it is illegal to pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill, possess, sell, barter, purchase, export, or import migratory birds, their parts, nests or eggs, except if permitted by regulation. Today,  the greatest threat to eagles is continued development of their habitat.

WP eagle takoff

Takeoff from right side of nest

In January and early February, I enjoyed attempting to get screen captures of eagle takeoffs and landings.  When Hanna and Hershey exited from the right side of the nest, I usually just got blurry tail feathers and sometimes talons.  From the left side of the nest I had better luck.

Left side of nest takeoff

Left side of nest takeoff

On January 23, 2016, there was a major blizzard in south central Pennsylvania.  On the ground, about 30 inches of snow was recorded in the area of the nest.  The nest was also piled high with snow, but it was amazing to watch the next 3 days as the eagles piled more nesting material on the snow to assist with the snow melt.  In just a few days, the nest looked as if no snow had fallen.

Towards the end of January and in the first part of February, Hanna and Hershey continued to build up the nest.  Many sticks were brought in to build up the nest border.  In addition there were frequent arrivals of the eagles with nesting material clasped in their talons.  The outside border of the nest was rearranged multiple times by both eagles, possibly to prevent squirrel intrusion?!??, or more likely just to protect the eaglets as they grow.

There wasn’t always agreement about the stick placement.  Sometimes Hershey and Hanna would do some replacing of sticks after one eagle had left the nest.  It was interesting to watch their personalities emerge as they built the home where they would raise the eaglets. The nest was also used for meals for Hershey and Hanna.

One morning, Hershey was fixated on stick placement.  He had several large sticks to place and he just couldn’t get them arranged to his satisfaction.    Hanna had just arrived with a fresh fish and was totally intent on eating.  Both continued to focus on their own individual tasks until Hershey moved one of the sticks and it poked Hanna.  She responded with an angry beak thrust and Hershey backed off.  Finally when Hanna was finished eating and left, Hershey consumed the remains of the fish and doggedly went back to repositioning the stick border.

From a human perspective, it seemed that the eagles just could not grasp the concept of how to keep the ends of the sticks from poking into the nest.  It would take time, but eventually, the nest provided a safe environment for the family to be.

On February 9th, another snow event occurred.  This time it was about 6 inches of snow and produced some lovely poses on the nest.

Checking the nest

Checking the nest

Snow Eagle

Snow Eagle

Fortunately, the snow occurred before the eggs were laid, however, there is still a lot of winter left and a lot of cold weather to endure.  I once read that you could put an eagle in a freezer overnight and the next morning when the door is opened, the eagle would be there just looking at you.  I guess that means that eagles don’t mind cold weather, but I don’t intend to conduct that experiment!

0215 1009amIn mid February, Hanna came to the nest more frequently and would work diligently to form the bole or nest cup. On Feb 18th in the afternoon, she settled into the nest and the watchers became vigilant.  Viewers were so vigilant, that the number of online watchers crashed the web cam!  Fortunately, the downtime was brief and those who kept watching saw an egg arrive. It was a moment of awe, especially for Hanna and Hershey.

On the evening of Feb 18th, as sunset began, Hershey stood guard over the nest as Hanna relaxed on the nest. Both eagle parents began the process of incubation, protection and love!

Hanna and Hershey

Hanna and Hershey

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When a storm is coming, all other birds seek shelter. The eagle alone avoids the storm by flying above it. So…in the storms of life, May your heart soar like an eagle.

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