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April 4, 2017 / mws

2017 Codorus State Park Bald Eagles – The first two weeks

This is the 2017 story of a pair of nesting bald eagles in Hanover, PA.

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

For purposes of this blog, I am going to call the adult male eagle “Hershey” and the adult female eagle “Hanna” as has been done in prior blogs.  For the 2017 season, eaglet number 1 (called H4) was born March 20, 2017.  Eaglet number 2 (called H5) was born March 21, 2017.  The “H” designation is for Hanover and the numbers correspond to the hatched eaglets since the camera was installed.

Hershey and Hanna March 2017

The Bald Eagle has been the national emblem of the United States since 1782 and a spiritual symbol for native people for far longer than that. These regal birds aren’t really bald, but their white-feathered heads gleam in contrast to their chocolate-brown body and wings. Look for them soaring in solitude, chasing other birds for their food, or gathering by the hundreds in winter. Once endangered by hunting and pesticides, Bald Eagles have flourished under protection.

The word bald as it relates to Bald Eagle is derived from an Old English term ‘balde’ which means white.  Eagles are birds of prey, also known as raptors, which comes from the Latin word “rapere,” to seize or grasp.

Watching in January, February and into March, viewers saw a lot of nest rebuilding and adding sticks to the side rails.  In mid February Hanna laid 2 eggs (3 days apart).  Then began our 35 days of watching and waiting.

On March 17th, the first “pip watch” became active. It’s always an exciting time when the first pip is discovered. Here is the process of pip to hatch:

About 4 days prior to hatching the developing chick’s “egg tooth”, a small sharp calcium spike on the top of the bill, pierces the membrane.   With the chick’s beak now accessing the small amount of air in that chamber the chick takes its first breath.  From this first breath of air the chick gets a burst of energy and scratches a hole through the egg shell to the outside. This hole is called the pip.

Now the chick has direct access to a continuing supply of air and vigorously starts the final process of hatching. Within a few hours of hatching the egg tooth dries up and falls off.  In a few more hours the chick dries off and appears as a fluffy white ball.  An eaglet is born!

H4 arrives 3-20-17

Male and female eagles can perform all of the jobs related to chick rearing but for most pairs they do have roles. In the early period after hatching the male does the bulk of the hunting providing prey to the brood.

H4 and H5 tucked away…

A lot of fish were brought to the nest by Hershey. The fish head has a lot of bones. The newborn eaglets are too young to be fed anything but the flesh of the fish at this time, so the parents eat the head and the headless fish are frequently seen in the nest pantry.

As the eaglets mature they become capable of expelling a pellet and at that time the growing eaglets can be fed the entire prey.

While the eaglets eat, viewers would question how they obtain water.  My research provided the following information:

0201 909am (3) - CopyEagles obtain most of their liquid nutrition from the food they eat. Most of their food sources are products with high water content. They also ‘create’ water through their metabolism  (called metabolic water) and this is a by-product of digestion. Adult and juvenile eagles will also drink water in ponds or lakes.

032417 h copy 1For the first two weeks the eaglets were little dependent fluff balls. The feedings were always delightful to watch.  It was in the very first week when the two siblings determined nest dominance.

It is common for eaglet siblings to show aggression towards each other.  One eaglet will become dominant in the nest.  For H4 and H5, it was H4 who became dominant and H5 who showed submission. The adults will make an attempt to feed both eaglets, but it is up to the eaglets to become aggressive, or become skilled at maneuvering to get fed!

H4 sitting up in back -H5 in front

Survival rates for first year eagles can be rather low as some never learn to hunt for themselves and are not as adapt at stealing food from others.

As indicated in the screen capture at the right, H4 would usually take an aggressive posture even when the feeding was not in progress.Sibling rivalry is seen on most Bald Eagles nests in various degrees and can be an important lesson learned. If an eaglet can’t survive in a nest where food is provided, the chances of them surviving in the wild when they are on their own is not as good.

As the eaglets entered week 2, they were no longer just a “bobblehead” but could hold their head up for feeding and sit up most of the time. The feedings occurred 5-8 times a day as the eaglets continued to gain a few ounces each day. It was in the second week that their gray thermal down coat appeared.  At about 2 weeks H4 and H5 would begin to regulate their own body temperature. Now, Hershey and Hanna started to let them explore the nest, but the parents would often be watching in a nearby sentinel tree.

H5 showing off his growing feet!

The growth of the eaglets was evident in their feathers, their mobility and their growing feet and talons!

At the beginning the eaglets gain around a pound every five days.  By 3-4 weeks they are 1 foot high & their feet & beaks are very nearly adult size. At around 5-6 weeks, the birds begin to stand, at which time they can began tearing up their own food. At 8 weeks, the eaglets are nearly as large as their parent.

A noticeable feature of the growing eaglets was their “crop”.  As they were fed, the area at the front of their neck would expand.

Eagles have what is called a crop located below the chin – where they can store food for later consumption.  There is great benefit to the eagle in having the crop.

Dominant H5 with a full crop!

The crop enables the eagle to quickly consume their prey before another raptor or a scavenger comes and steals their food. Once the food has been digested in the raptor’s stomach, the inedible parts, like fur, insect carapaces and bones, are brought up again as a pellet.

At 2 weeks old, H4 and H5 are about 7 inches tall and weigh about 2.5 pounds.  They  eat frequently and are fed bigger bites. Most importantly, they are developing right before our eyes as we watch this miracle of nature.

Hershey and Hanna faced challenges in the first two weeks.  The parents provided the needed nourishment from the nearby Codorus State Park Lake.  Multiple fish and coot as well as other small mammals could be found on the nest in various stages of consumption.  Weather was also a concern of the parents. Rain was a factor in the first two weeks and both parents worked together to provide cover and feedings even through the toughest of weather conditions.

Despite the challenges, this family thrived and provided endless delight to viewers

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 and their partners for allowing us to have this incredible viewing opportunity!!

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

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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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