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 Clark Fork River MT - Bald Eagle Nest
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By: Anonymous: Sue Erickson () on Wednesday, May 04 2011 @ 05:49 PM EDT (Read 54491 times)  
Anonymous: Sue Erickson

Clark Fork Nest Missoula, Montana
Contributed by Sue Erickson May 2011

Brief History over the last several years:

We first began paying attention to this pair about six years ago while the nest was considerably smaller. We estimate the nest started was started around 2001. The turning point came in 2008 when I began to work from home full time, with a clear view of the nest from my home office window.

Mounted in a strategic spot overlooking the Clark Fork River abundant with fish, plus overlooking the highway with great potential for roadkill, this pair has successfully raised multiple chicks every year from the year we began to really count them.


  • 2007 two chicks
  • 2008 three chicks
  • 2009 three chicks
  • 2010 two chicks
  • 2011 - This year the nest is especially interesting - the pair are raising FOUR chicks - which is very rare!
  • 2012 three chicks (link to posts for 2012 nesting season)

During the last three years, as the chicks grow to adult size before fledge, the parents perch on a few choice dead trees high above the nest on the mountainside. They oftentimes remain stationed there for hours at a time. Remarkably, we have observed more than two adult bald eagles on the trees. Their white heads are clearly seen against the dark backdrop.

Current Observations for 2011

March 2, 2011, the first egg was laid. A parent remained in the nest.

March 25, 2011, father taking over the nest allowing mother to leave.

April 8, 2011, obvious activity over climbing out of the nest and peering inside by both parents. I suspect one chick had hatched a few days earlier, but now itís clear judging on the behavior of the parents.

April 21, 2011, two tiny heads have been seen for the past week, but remarkably, a third baby is seen being fed by the parents.
As the size of the babies begins to increase, likewise the amount of food brought to the nest by the parents. The mother remains at the nest most of the time while the father brings in food.
There is a distinction between the way the mother feeds compared to the father. The mother picks off tiny pieces of meat, often standing on a piece sheís torn off in order to tear it off smaller. The father, on the other hand, pulls of the considerably larger pieces to feed the chicks.

April 23, 2011, I thought I spotted a fourth chick, but I couldnít believe my eyes. I thought it was just my imagination. Research of statistics show that four live chicks to a bald eagle pair is extremely rare.

April 26, 2011, after three days of repeatedly seeing the four, Iím able to confidently confirm the existence of all of them. I contacted wildlife biologist David Hancock of the Hancock Wildlife Foundation who, in turn, contacted biologist Kate Davis of Raptor of the Rockies. Kate Davis studied and frequently photographed this pair and the three chicks in 2009.

April 29, 2011, the mother is feeling confident to leave the babies unattended for about ten minutes. As she flew off, four little heads in a row watched her leave. Later during the day, the father brought in food. A few days earlier, he perched on the nest and demonstrated how to eat intestines. Now one of the chicks is eating it in imitation of the parent.

April 30,2011, over the last few days, thereís been a flurry of excitement. The increasing size on the chicks has reaffirmed all four. An unusual late spring with cold sleet and sometimes snow this past week seems to discourage activity by the chicks.

May 1, 2011, wonderful sunshine seems to come as a surprise to the chicks. The three biggest bravely climbed a little higher and sat side by side with their backs to the sun feeling the warmth on their bodies. The fourth chick stayed lower in the nest but still active in the sunshine.

By: Anonymous: Sue Erickson () on Thursday, May 05 2011 @ 12:48 AM EDT  
Anonymous: Sue Erickson

May 3, 2011, We have cold and a little sleet and snow, so a bit quiet in the nest. Parents will leave them alone for an hour now, although I see them coming and going nearby. I know the size of the nest is huge and still appears roomy for the babies. That will change soon. These babies are being well fed by both parents.

May 4, 2011, Mother stays out of the nest for long periods of time. The sunshine hit the four babies and they are quite active. They were all perched higher up within the nest ringed in a circle. The biggest one is getting braver and climbs higher but near the trunk. Perhaps the trunk gives a sense of security. Their awkward wings flop and bump each other as they move. Absolutely precious!

Funny story on the character of the babies from a couple of days ago. The two bigger chicks were side by side. Their backs were to me and a parent was on the far side of the nest ripping pieces of meat to feed the babies. The chicks were in position for their meal, but the one on the left evidently felt he needed to be right in front of the food. He inched up to the one on the right and then just kept bumping his sibling over just a little bit, then a little bit more, then a little bit more.

By: Anonymous: Sue Erickson () on Thursday, May 05 2011 @ 02:28 PM EDT  
Anonymous: Sue Erickson

May 5, 2011 There's still a significant difference in size between the oldest chick and the youngest. The parents, particularly the mother, will continue to bring food in frequent intervals all morning long until all babies are fed. It's easy to spot all four at once, but with the quick movements, it's difficult to catch it all on camera to see the distinction. Still working on that. The size difference between now and a week ago is very obvious. The first one is one month old now.

On a nearby dead tree, the father frequently sits. There's very few branches left on the tree. It makes for wonderful viewing when he preens. The parent has a clear shot of the river and the nest and is close to both. It's also one of the first places the young ones sit once they fledge. There's room for more than one. In the past, that's been a favorite perch.

The view I'm able to see is against a wonderful small mountain backdrop which allows enough contrast to observe details of the entire family when they're active.

By: Anonymous: Sue Erickson () on Friday, May 06 2011 @ 09:38 AM EDT  
Anonymous: Sue Erickson

May 5, 2011, FOUR BABIES FIRST PHOTO. Finally a photo that show all four chicks. You can see the beak of Baby 4 against the black body of the mother. He is the smallest and the one we worry about. As it is, three chicks can become quite crowded even though the nest continues to increase in size year after year. However, abundant food is being brought to the babies continually all day long. Baby 4 continues to thrive.

Click on image to download

By: Anonymous: Sue Erickson () on Friday, May 06 2011 @ 10:42 AM EDT  
Anonymous: Sue Erickson

May 6, 2011 Both parents are in the nest with food on opposite sides of the nest. They are busily tearing meat from whatever they brought. I haven't before seen both bring food at the same time like this.

By: Anonymous: Sue Erickson () on Saturday, May 07 2011 @ 06:57 PM EDT  
Anonymous: Sue Erickson

Another amateur photo captured in a hurry to show evidence of all four chicks today. They get to moving so much that it's hard to catch all four heads at once. The two larger are in the center facing me, as usual. The two smaller are in the back, one on each side of the bigger center ones.It seems like they are most active in the middle of the day after they've been well fed all morning. Give them a little time for all the food to settle, and then they are up exploring.Click on image to download

By: Anonymous: Sue Erickson () on Saturday, May 07 2011 @ 06:58 PM EDT  
Anonymous: Sue Erickson

And one more picture, slightly blurry, but again, evidence of four chicks.Click on image to download

By: JudyB (offline) on Saturday, May 07 2011 @ 08:46 PM EDT  

What wonderful pictures, Sue! I'd been wondering how big the youngest one is - and while it's still hard to be sure, I'm happy to see that he or she seems to be standing up almost as tall as the biggest ones!


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