Your questions, answered: When will DM2 start feeding?

I asked our moderators for their top questions of the day. You wanted to know: ‘When will DM2 start feeding his young?’. This is our answer. 

Note: The morning after this blog was written, D32 did his first feeding! You can watch that here:

It is interesting and sometimes nerve-wracking to watch what is most likely a brand-new eagle father after years of watching Dad, who had eagle fatherhood down. We’re going to talk about what DM2 is doing first:

  • DM2 is brooding. He takes his shift on the nest and keeps D32 and his egg covered in less than ideal weather conditions, although Mom isn’t always interested in leaving her warm, cozy nest in chilly, damp weather. We saw this behavior with Mom and Dad as well and don’t believe that it signals concern, a lack of trust, or an unwillingness to share brood duty overall.
  • DM2 is helping to keep the Pan-tree full. While he isn’t yet the prodigious prey-piler that Dad was – and why would he be, if this is his first nest? – he is delivering food to the nest and sharing prey with Mom.
  • Intruder alert? DM2 is on it! As the eagle population expands, we are seeing more eagles in and around Mom and DM2’s territory. DM2 is protecting his nest, mate, and young by keeping intruders at bay.

So why hasn’t DM2 started feeding D32? Only he knows for sure, but we suspect that DM2 has never fed young. Research indicates that feeding in birds tends to be instinctual and triggered by gaping and vocalization, but DM2 may need a few more lessons from Mom before the feeding gear engages in his brain.

Is DM2 a deadbeat Dad? We’re hearing that term quite a bit. But eagles don’t divide neatly into human narratives of good and bad behavior. Outside the somewhat perplexing lack of feeding, DM2 is caring for his young, providing food, and keeping his nest safe. This also isn’t the first time we’ve seen surprising feeding behavior in what we suspected was a new parent. Long-time watchers might recall the North Nest ‘bucket brigade food line’ in 2016. Mr. North didn’t tend to feed the eaglets directly, but he often provided food to Mrs. North, who took on the task of feeding. We saw this behavior change in subsequent years as Mr. North became more comfortable and experienced with feeding and caring for his eaglets. Here’s an excerpt from a blog we wrote in 2017:

Let’s talk a little bit about ‘parenting styles’. Last year, watchers observed that Dad North was less involved in feeding his eaglets directly, although he participated in a lot of bucket brigade feedings. The North eagles didn’t tend to stockpile prey and food often seemed scarce at the North nest. Given the differences between Dad Decorah and Dad North, some watchers speculated that Dad North was on his first round of eaglets. We didn’t weigh in on that discussion, but we have seen changes this year. While Dad North still offers the bucket brigade from time to time, he is participating in more tandem feedings with Mom North. When feeding solo, Dad North often offers food to both eaglets, picks up dropped food and re-offers it, and removes grass from their beaks.

Again, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen what we suspect are new eagle fathers learning how to feed and care for young. We know that Mom is more than up to the task of keeping eaglet crops stuffed and we believe that DM2 will eventually join her in feeding. In the meantime, he is helping to assure his young are warm, dry, fed, and cared for. Deadbeat Dad? No. Inexperienced Dad? Almost certainly. He has a lot to learn and we will learn with him! As I write this, Mom just fed D32 and all is good in the Cottonwood. Sweet Eagle Dreams, everyone!

Thank you so much for our volunteer moderators for sharing their knowledge, to our camera operators for finding special moments in our nests, and to all of you who have joined us for the next chapter of our eagles’ stories!