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April 1, 2016 / mws

2016 Codorus State Park Bald Eagles – Part 2

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 2 – Laying the eggs, incubation and birth

For purposes of this blog, I am going to call the male eagle “Hershey” and the female eagle “Hanna”.

Put that stick over there, dear!

Put that stick over there, dear!

Through mid-February, the eagles visited the nest often, with a lot of stops for breakfast and lunch!  Hanna and Hershey remodeled the nest several times as the weather produced wind, rain, sleet, snow, and ice.  There was continual nest arrangement and building up of the stick borders. Watchers waited anxiously for Hanna to take her position over the nest cup and bring the next generation into the world.

Hanna snuggled into the egg cup on the afternoon of February 18th and at 3:18PM nest time, laid an egg. She stood up and gently rolled the egg under her.  Hershey, who had just finished eating arrived at the nest and looked things over, and then took off to search for food for his family.

Hanna on alert

Hanna on alert

Shortly after the first egg was laid, Hanna was on the nest providing incubation.  The squirrel became active on nearby branches and Hanna went on alert!  She quickly spread out her full wingspan over the nest and kept it that way for about 5 minutes.  After she sensed that danger was past, she relaxed and rested from the ordeal.

Sunday, February 21st, 2016 was a great nest watching time. It was a somewhat cold, cloudy day with some rain showers.  Most of the afternoon, Hanna rested on the nest.  At one point, Hershey arrived with a fish and there was noisy chatter as Hanna consumed the needed nourishment.  Hanna seemed anxious to return to her nesting pose and following the mid-afternoon lunch, Hanna once again settled on the nest.  Hanna adjusted her position a few times and was restless for the next hour. When she started squirming and contorting her head, it was apparent that the egg would soon appear.

Hanna proudly shows Hershey her second egg

Hanna proudly shows Hershey her second egg

At 4:16PM Hanna rose up, puffed out a little and dropped the egg.  She stood and the two eggs were visible under her.  Hanna was obviously very tired after her ordeal and sank down onto the eggs. A short while later, Hershey arrived at the nest and Hanna raised up over the egg cup as Hershey peeked under to see the two eggs.  What a joyous moment for all the eagle watchers!  Hershey seemed satisfied with his quick peek and flew off to let Hanna rest and to search for food.

0201 909am (3) - CopyEggshells (composed of two adjacent layers)  are made of magnesium salts and inorganic calcium embedded in a network of delicate, collagen-like fibers. 

All birds lay a shelled egg for external incubation. A protective coating called bloom is added about an hour before it emerges.  The high body temperature of the bird permits the rapid expulsion of the fertilized egg to cooler temperatures outside of the body.

nest exchange

nest exchange

After the eggs were laid, the eagles instincts kicked into high gear.  Both Hanna and Hershey displayed the instinctive behaviour necessary to accomplish their roles of guarding the eggs. When one parent left the nest, the other was there to take over the incubation duties.  It was a consistent and well timed rotation that offered loving protection for the eaglets-to-be.

On March 4th, a minor snowstorm occurred.  Once again, eagle viewers witnessed the dedicated commitment of Hanna and Hershey as they incubated the eggs.  The majority of the nest time was accomplished by Hanna.  But when she got hungry, Hanna would sometimes vocalize and let Hershey know that it was his turn on the nest!  On the snowy March 4th morning, Hershey was providing incubation as Hanna took a break. It wasn’t long until Hanna returned and the parents exchanged places.

Another of the intense eagle instincts was evident during the snowy March morning.  There was squirrel activity in the nearby trees and Hanna was visibly disturbed. She fluffed her wings a few times and then went into full wing protection mode.  To those watching, it was understood that Hanna was offering protection, but it was also very beautiful to see her pose with the full wing extension.

Nest exchange

Nest exchange

Every time that there was a nest exchange, the eggs were visible. Before resettling on the nest, the adult eagles would often use their beak to loosen the grasses around the eggs and aerate the area.  Both Hanna and Hershey were so very gentle as they rolled the eggs under them and continued the incubation.  It takes about 35 days for an eagle egg to hatch.  All through the month of March, Hanna and Hershey continued to take turns on the nest and provide warmth and protection for the eggs.

Hanna on the nest 3-22

Hanna on the nest 3-22

On March 20th and continuing into the next day, Hanna and Hershey were more frequently away from the nest.  They also remained away from the eggs for longer periods of time.  There was much concern about why this was occurring.  Theories were rampant, including owls, raccoons, and even a drone.  This (in addition to other issues)  prompted the PA Game Commission to consider a ban on drones over Pennsylvania game lands. With the expected hatch date of March 23 to March 30, it was a major concern for all.  Everything seemed to return to normal soon after the episode. Both parents were frequently on the nest and incubation continued to be a priority.

eagle fact with arrow pointing rightWith just a few days remaining in the 35 day incubation period, watchers started to look for  a pip.  A pip is a tiny hole that the eaglet creates inside the egg with its “egg tooth”. As an eaglet is formed inside the egg, a small sharp protrusion (egg tooth) is formed on the beak of the chick that provides the eaglet a tool to chop through the egg shell.

Pip on side of egg

Pip on side of egg

After the eagle chick pecks through the inner membrane, it will start to use it’s egg tooth to peck even harder at the inner egg shell. It’s thought that the adult eagles can likely hear and feel the pecking.  This is a sign to the adults to be aware of the hatching. Eaglets often hatch over several days, so after one eaglet is hatched, a pip watch would most likely continue for the other egg for one or more days.

Hershey on the nest

Hershey on the nest

On Easter Sunday, March 28th, there was internet chatter about a pip and a crack in the eggs.  It was not completely evident when the eggs were rolled, yet there were some screen captures that seemed to indicate the process had begun.

Following general convention for eagle viewers, for the 2016 hatchlings, I will be using H3 and H4 for identify them, with H representing the Hanover nest.

H3 starting to hatch

H3 starting to hatch

The next day (Monday) was very rainy and windy.  Hanna was on the nest offering protection until about 9AM when she agressively called for Hershey.  There was a lot of excitement when Hanna stepped off the nest and for the first time, I could see an active hatching starting to take place!

In just a few moments Hershey came in with a fish and that’s a great sign that there would be a hatching very soon!!  There were a lot of birds and some squirrel activity in the area of the nest.  As the sun came out, Hershey spread his wings to offer full protection to the little ones.

Hershey with H3

Hershey with H3…a moment of awe!

On Tuesday, March 29, 2016 the first eaglet hatched.  It happened sometime in the wee hours of the morning. A small little ball of gray fluff could be seen when Hershey moved off the nest! There was an incredible moment when Hershey just looked in awe at his new little eaglet! He seemed a little unsure about what to do next.  Hershey went to the fish, looked at H3, looked at the fish and then seemed to decide that Hanna would know what to do!  So he flew off as Hanna arrived…a very proud Dad!!  🙂

H3 in the nest cup

H3 in the nest cup

Tuesday was another windy day, but not rainy. Hanna spent most of the day at the nest and moved off the nest to eat fish a few times.  Each time, little H3 would try to move around and even sit up. All watchers were anxious to see the first feeding of H3.  Hanna and Hershey tried a few times in the afternoon to feed H3…but it was slow going.  Maybe a few bits of fish were received by H3?!?

On Wednesday (March 30th), Hanna was on the nest from early morning into mid-morning.  About 9:30am, she stood up and went to pull over a fish closer to the nest.  It looked like she wanted to feed H3.  There was much concern because H3 was not moving at all.  There was no chirping and watchers could not see any breathing movement or an attempt to raise it’s head.

H3 just one day old

H3 just one day old

In the afternoon, Hershey was on the nest and seemed very agitated and distressed.  He vocalized multiple times and whenever Hershey moved off the nest, there was again no movement. Little H3 did not survive…so very sad.  😦

We do not know for sure why H3 did not survive. It’s possible that there was an incident on the nest or there could be biological or environmental factors that we don’t know about.

In his very short life, little H3 brought much joy to all the viewers. The circle of life is embeded with despair and hope.  One eaglet was lost and now the attention turned to the second egg to watch for a pip. Would the second egg be viable?  We didn’t know but focused on hope that a second eaglet would hatch soon.

For the next few days, the nest was quieter than usual.  Hanna was the chief incubator during this time.  The normal signs of Hershey bringing fish and much heightened activity did not occur. On day 40 there was still no pip in the egg.

eagle fact with arrow pointing rightThere are several reasons why an egg might not hatch.  It could be due to insufficient nutrients, improper incubation, not enough turning of the egg in the nest, or the eggshell being penetrated by bacteria. An infertile or nonviable egg usually remains intact throughout the incubation period. If the egg does not break up, the parents may not know it is infertile or nonviable and may continue to incubate it for days or even weeks beyond the time it would have hatched.

It was with great sorrow that we watched Hanna continue to attempt to incubate the egg.  Sadly, there would be no eaglets in the Hanover nest this season. Nature is a realist and emotional human viewers can only react to the events that occur in nature.  This is the way it was meant to be. Hanna and Hershey will likely have eaglets in the future and our idealistic human souls will soar with the eagles again.

The Hanover Eagle webcam has provided excellent viewing for nature lovers and created a good teaching tool for educators.  Thanks to the PA Game Commission and it’s partners for this captivating and realistic online adventure!

Ever devoted...Hershey and Hanna

Ever devoted…Hershey and Hanna


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***Eagle Facts provided through research.  Sources include Wikipedia, Southwest Florida Eagle Group, PA Game Commission, the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife and the Teton Raptor Center.



Leave a Comment
  1. Tracey / Apr 10 2016 9:02 am

    The first thing that came to my mind was the possible drone activity would have caused the eggs to get too cold when left inattended?

    • mws / Apr 10 2016 9:32 am

      I know Tracey, it’s what I thought too. But we’ll never know for sure. Hoping for 2017 eaglets now!

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