Checking the Nest

My best guess is that the bald eagle chicks in my neighborhood eagles’ nest are about 12 weeks old now. They are nearly the same size as their parents and have already acquired their dark brown flight feathers. I’ve been monitoring this nest at least twice a week since mid-March when the female started sitting and I first noticed her two fuzzy gray chicks peeking out on April 21st when they were a week or so old.

Female eagles normally lay a clutch of two eggs but three or even four are not unheard of. The eggs are laid in a sequence of anywhere from 3 to 6 or sometimes up to 10 days apart and are incubated by the female for a period of 35 to 40 days thereafter. They hatch in the same order that they were laid and at the same intervals. The male eagle takes charge of feeding the female while she is incubating but after the eggs hatch both parents feed their babies by regurgitating partially-digested fish, waterfowl or whatever other forms of wildlife they may have been able to catch.

The first chick to hatch is called the dominant chick and – because it is older and stronger – it usually pushes its way to the forefront at feeding time. Sometimes a dominant chick has even been known to push some or all of its weaker siblings out of the nest altogether in order to exploit maximum parental attention. There is no brotherly love among eaglet siblings. On a number of occasions, I have seen the dominant chick in this nest bully its way past its smaller sibling in order to be fed first.

But things will be changing soon. I have already witnessed both chicks making short flights, hopping from one side of the nest to the other, and otherwise testing their wing-flapping capabilities. On one recent occasion, I watched a parent gracefully glide from the nest to the ground 40 feet below and call to its babies in an effort to entice one or both of them to follow. But so far the chicks have been reluctant.

Now every time I return to the nest, I do so expecting to find it empty. The dominant chick will most likely take flight first, followed by its sibling a day or two later. Since the parents will still be feeding their babies for several weeks after they fledge, the nest will continue to serve as a feeding station. But by mid-to-late July, the nest will be abandoned altogether until next February when housekeeping there will begin anew.

Story and Photo by John Adamski

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