Whatta Season! Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes!!

By Sherri Elliott

What happened to our eensie eaglets and where did these gangly gray pterodactyls come from? It’s only been a few short weeks since the eaglets hatched at Decorah (fish hatchery nest), and at the Decorah North Nest, and we’ve seen them grow from about 3oz and 3 inches long at hatch to about 1 foot now and weighing as much as a 5lb bag of sugar. They not only change from day to day but sometimes the growth spurt is noticed after a feeding and nap! The fuzzy white puffmallow peeps with dandelion heads have new tweed coats they are sporting as gray thermal down displaced natal down and little black polka-dots are sprouting on backs in tracts. Pinfeathers are popping in waxy keratin sheaths along wings with primary and secondary feathers and look like the plastic aglets on our shoelaces but carry the vital blood supply for feather growth. Tail buds will soon be adorned with a row of 12 feathers for the train, just as the last remnants of their downy white peruke wigs morph into mohawks in the punk rawk stage. The Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes are coming quickly as the eaglets enter the loveable Tiny Pterodactyl Period…but first let’s break down each nest and what we’re seeing.

At the Decorah Eagles Hatchery Nest

D32 is 23 days old and D33 is 20 days old .. both at the 3-Week mark. There’s a little less bonking now between them, but D32 chooses to assert if the opportunity presents and D33 meets the behavior with more finesse by a subtle beak bite. Sometimes just a soft clamp down from a bigger beak is enough of an age reminder to knock it off, and then it’s back to being buddies in a cuddle puddle, or D33 trying to scoot under D32 for some shade or comfort. D33 is still scooting around on tarsi, while D32 has picked up the pace and started to hyper haunch walk around the nest, exploring new terrain and asserting some independence while gaining some fit bit steps. They both are enjoying seeking out vantage points to look at the big beyond of their territory and visual acuity has improved so much that they are tracking parents coming and going, watching neighbor birds flit by, and when not captivated by a sparrow babysitter will periscope up taller to pose a threat and vocal and wingflap at the intruder. Hmmm, see how early imprinting starts? They both are eager eaters and each has learned how to belly up to the buffet for the choice selections offered. Bigger bites are grabbed and swallowed easily and even though Mom likes to turn her teakettle to a soft simmer to take over a feeding from DM2, there have been a couple of really nice tandem feedings of the darling duo which is a lovely flashback to how Dad Decorah liked to feed. A majority of their protein has been from fish … both hatchery trout and the spring run suckerfish, but they’ve also gotten a taste of the finer things like rabbit, squirrel, dove, mink, petrified bird, and some mystery meat. What goes in must come out and projectile poop shoots are more noticeable and you can almost hear their back up beepers as they move to relieve themselves over the rails. Pellet casts will take care of the accumulated bits of fur, scales and undigestible bits to be ground up in the gizzard. We’re also seeing motor skill development by playing with the nesting fluff, beaking at corn husks, and even minor nestorating. Preening is a new pastime and the little peeps are cranking all 14 neck vertebrae reaching to distant places to pick and poke, and the parents have both been seen allopreening their young for private parts just out of reach. You can watch for more of that in the coming week as they begin to learn how adaptable those clown feet are by standing up more, getting up off haunches to walk, and starting to grasp little sticks and straw with toes and talons. While the little eaglets still like to scoot under parents for shade or comfort, they are also moving out from under the feathered carport to camp out more at night, even if just a few inches for now. Faceplants and side-sleeping still makes me smile seeing them spread eagle, or huddled together in a cuddle puddle and pretty soon we’ll see more head tucks while snoozing!

At the Decorah North Nest

DN9 lost its only sibling at barely 1-day old but viewers have doubled their doses of doting and adoration on the little charmer, and s/he knows no difference in being an only eaglet. At 27 days old now, DN9 is on the eve of entering its 4th Week and is already meeting or exceeding benchmarks and milestones for this stage of development. DN9 has probably covered every square inch of the tarmac while tarsi walking and finding that those big yellow clown feet are not only interesting to flex while lounging but also are used to support for standing and walking. Wings are not just used as a crutch to pivot, but can flap or wingersize at will while standing, or for balance to compensate a top-heavy crop while walking, or can be dropped while sitting to form the perfect eaglet recliner for lounging. Wings are also used to defend the nest when a bold neighbor bird invades the airspace, and are especially effective when combined with a scree vocal for good measure. DN9 was particularly flap-happy the other day showing off its skills to Mr. North when Mr. showed him how strong they will soon be and the little eaglet got its first experience with downdraft wind shear. DN9 has also found that perching closer to the crib rails is a better vantage point to mentally map the natal area, watch little birds, or track parents coming and going or perched above on the Overhead Babysitting Branch.or the left side Love Branch. Vision has also sharpened to follow the flight paths of the honking geese flying above, as well as the biggest bird seen yet … an airplane, and the cow parade in the pasture. DN9 never seems to miss a meal, scurrying to a parent with prey du jour while squeeing, but oddly enough is the first eaglet I’ve observed that has several times refused or spit out a portion of prey not wanted. Often a little parental prodding produces the desired effect of getting a fish fin, tail, pelt or feathered bite to go down on the third or fourth try and the next time it goes down a lot easier. Most food is grabbed with gusto and the prey menu has included fish, mole, vole, squirrel, rabbit, mink, coot, wood duck, raccoon, mystery meat, bony bits, and our all-time favorite cowghetti … long strands of blobby cow placenta. DN9 has gobbled two bones almost the length of its neck and made for an interesting visual in its crop. One was offered and the other was a found nestover which DN9 gulped down itself. Interestingly, on that day DN9 had made multiple attempts in the morning to cast a pellet only to get it part way up and then swallow it back down, so the calcium-rich bones afterward made for a lumpy and angular crop for a time, and probably not a very comfortable or plush crop pillow. DN9 is also becoming adept at tearing off bites of pantree prey by nibbling. It’s not really self-feeding which requires standing and good neck muscle strength to pull back and rip bites, but it’s the first stabs (pun intended) of getting the goods when left to your own devices. DN9 is also good at taking care of household chores by moving nesting fluff with its beak and recently was seen using a foot clamp to grab a clump of grass and move it an inch or so to a new location, showing off some new motor skills and coordination. Next week will be even more exciting as feet and beaks near adult size, more feathers pop on its head and back, and pins get longer and a line tail feathers emerge. I hope you have an extra thumb drive for the season for all the screen caps you won’t want to miss!

I’d be remiss in not stating the biggest change at both of our nests has been the change in parental partners. Our founder Bob Anderson was very hopeful that by observing these two distinctive nests in the Decorah area that we’d be able to compare and contrast the differences. Sadly, we got that chance last April when Dad Decorah disappeared and Mom Decorah was suddenly a single parent raising and successfully fledging their three eaglets on her own. And sometime last summer or early fall, Mrs. North was not seen at the North Nest, and we don’t know what happened to her. Both have found new partners and it seems like they chose excellent mates who despite some initial challenges that lead us to believe they might be inexperienced or new parents, have successfully stepped up providing provisions, sharing duties and devoted to their darling ddd’s. We respect and honor the parents we lost and it’s why RRP has chosen to name DM2 (Decorah Male 2) as Mom Decorah’s mate, and not call him Dad. And it’s also why the new female DNF (Decorah North Female) will not be called Mrs. North or Mom. You can read about RRP’s “What’s In A Name?” decision here: https://www.raptorresource.org/2019/04/17/whats-in-a-name/