Nest Stories

Watching Eaglets Grow

As the various cameras for watching eagle nests get better and better, I've become intrigued with the stages of development eaglets go through in their 12 or so weeks on the nest.  Like most birds, they start as fluffy little chicks - and amazingly soon, they have long feathers and big wings - and off they go!  But until I discovered eagle cams, I never thought about what happened in between.

Hancock Wildlife Foundation is in a tight spot right now - we're having issues with cams at two of our nests, and our server is being attacked by hackers - which means we have a lot of expenses at a time when we don't have much income (and quite frankly, we don't ever have much income - we don't have corporate or university support, and mostly are quite good at doing a lot with the resources we have - but things are quite a bit tighter than usual right now).

I've recently posted about why we need your support now (What Does It Cost to Watch an Eaglet Grow?) - and this is intended as a companion story, showing some of the neat things we see while we watch eaglets grow, and hoping that you'll help us discover even more this year. 

I'm starting with week 1 - and will be adding more weeks soon.

This is Hunter, the younger chick from our Delta 2 nest in 2014, seconds after the hatch was complete, with thanks to observer marilynfromkentucky; the older chick is in back (older by only 12 hours - and doesn't he/she look fluffier and bigger already?).  Hatching is hard work, and often the newly hatched chick will sleep for a while as his/her feathers dry.  Happily they don't need to eat immediately - they absorb the yolk as part of the hatching process, so hatch with a full tummy that will carry them for a day or two if they hatch during a snowstorm or while something is going on that leads to a delay in the first feeding.  But that doesn't stop them from peeping and demanding food as soon as the opportunity arises!  Weight at hatch varies quite a bit, from 2.6 to 4 ounces.

6-hour-old younger chick up and looking for food at Harrison Mills

Here's a great example of that - the chick in back is Putter from Harrison Mills last year, and this great screenshot by IrishEyes was taken when he was only 6 hours old.  He's already dried off - and is balancing on the back of four-day-old Driver while peeping for food - and he got a few bites to eat during this feeding (though not as many as Driver, but that's as it should be - Putter needed a lot less at this point).

First chick JJ at Lafarge looking strong at 1 day old

The picture above is first chick JJ from our Lafarge nest in 2014 - see how strong he or she looks sitting up and demanding food at just one day old!  And notice how the adult is turning her head to make it easier for the tiny chick to grab the tiny bit of food being offered - I always find this so amazing to watch.  This image was captured by golden1.

 Two day old Kilo puts 1 day old Lima into submission at White Rock

One of the things we've learned about eaglets is that they "bonk" each other - which is a lighthearted term for a serious subject.  Eaglets are born feisty, with a strong will to survive - and they instinctively realize that other eaglets may get in the way of that - so starting at a very young age, they will attack each other to establish dominance.  Most of the time, after a few days, both chicks know who's the boss (almost always the older one), and the attacks diminish.  That's what happened with Kilo and Lima from our White Rock nest last year - one-day-old Lima is displaying submission in the image above - and two-day-old Kilo is on the way to establishing that she's the boss.  And most of the time, both ate peacefully side-by-side - but if dinner was late and Kilo was hungry, he or she was likely to deliver a few pecks to remind Lima to wait until the "big chick" had eaten.  This s'cap (short for screen capture) is by eaglenut.


The screenshot above captured by dmitch shows three-day-old Driver from Harrison Mills with the egg that will become Putter in another day - isn't it hard to believe that big chick could fit in that little egg three days ago? 

Another picture of the White Rock chicks, captured by byline.  Four-day-old Lima is in front, and five-day-old Kilo is in back.  There's still some bonking here, but not a lot, and both chicks are well fed.  A five-day-old chick weighs about 300 grams, or 10.6 ounces - so odds are good that both of these little ones have already more than doubled their weight.

Sydie captured this amazing close-up of six-day-old Ariel at the Delta 2 nest in 2014.  The white bump on the end of his or her beak is the egg tooth she used to peck her way out of the shell (the white on the side of the beak is likely a bit of food).  And the powerful cameras and amazing zooming we have now let us see things that most people would otherwise never have an opportunity to see - like an eaglet's ear!  Eagles don't have ears that stick out like people - the little dark spot to the left of Ariel's eye and beak is a tiny hole - her ear.  And it will be hidden by her feathers before long - and even at this age, it's only visible when her head is at just the right angle to the cam.

Seven day old JJ shows his or her big beak at Lafarge – April 30 2014 by mjb

Seven-day-old JJ's beak is getting bigger and beginning to look a bit more like an eagle beak; Jess who is closer to the cam, is three days younger - and is trying to stand very tall, but eaglets grow fast, and JJ is three days bigger - which is a lot in eaglet days!  I'm not sure if any of the pictures really show this, but eaglets do open their eyes immediately - but it takes a while for them to actually see anything (which is why chicks sometimes face the wrong way during feedings the first day or two).  Their vision improves quickly, and by the time they are a week old, they are beginning to focus on things - and perhaps it's not a coincidence that this is the age that chicks begin to climb out of the nest bowl and explore the rest of the nest.  Actually, I should say that exploration often begins when the oldest chick is about a week old - if there are younger chicks in the nest, they often try very hard to follow the big ones - and frequently succeed.  This screenshot from the Lafarge nest was captured by mjb.

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