Image and article by Sherri Elliott
Gee Whiz, that’s a lot of G-words, but there’s even more as we godparents gather and gaze into the nests with gratitude for all the changes glimpsed gauging their gargantuan G-force growth. Gone are the gentle little grubs … replaced by gangly and sometimes goofy and glorious ginormous-sauruses!
We have two nests in Decorah … the original nest at the fish hatchery with Mom Decorah and new male DM2 and their two eaglets D32 & D33, and some distance away in the countryside we have Decorah North, headed by Mr. North and new mate DNF and their one eaglet DN9. I hope you are looking in on both of them as RRP founder Bob Anderson hoped we would to compare and contrast the differences not only in habitat and resources, but also parenting styles, as well as eaglet growth, behaviors, and personalities.
D32 just turned 5 weeks old on Thursday, and D33 will be 5 weeks old on Sunday.
DN9 is slightly older hitting the 6-week old mark on Sunday. You can don a party hat to celebrate the near-halfway mark to the gateway of branching and fledging, or pull out a half a box of Kleenex because the time is passing so quickly. I’d suggest going with the party hat and celebrating every day and every milestone yet to come as all our eaglets seem to be meeting or exceeding developmental benchmarks and milestones. It is pretty amazing to think that at 41-37-34 days old the former 3-inch hatchlings with 3-inch wingspans are now about 2 feet in length with wingspans between 3-4+ feet and weigh between 6-7+ lbs. This is the time period known as T-90 where 90% of their terminal weight can be reached and they become fully feathered.
It’s been obvious observing them when next to a parent that beak depth, feet, toes, talons, and eyes are nearly adult size. They are in various stages of feather development and while primary and secondary feather growth and tail feathers are longer, their other feathers are defined in the cape tracts on their shoulders, back, and heads … forcing out the last little dandelion natal down that is blown off with every new breeze or by preening … either on their own or with a sibling or parental assist. Not everybirdie likes to sit still long though for quick spit bath from another and that can still lead to a mini bonk bout between D32 and D33, or a beak bite from DN9 to a parent. Oh, and those puffy pantaloons are getting polka-dotted too!
We’re hearing lots of vocals emerging now too. The chirps and cheeps have become louder and faster chit chat, or what seems like Eaglet Morse Code. Squeee’s are louder too, punctuated when an incoming parent is observed, or amped-up full volume to a Squeeenami Siren if it looks like a grocery bag is part of the arrival. DN9 and D32 are mastering the mantle, and sometimes even waste a good one when the gift is nest fluff, a stick, or corn stalk, but it’s still good practice finding their fierce. All of them are grabby getting their food bites, or attempting a grab with a grip on the goods and starting to steal and claim the prize. It was cute seeing D32 employ the stealth-setting yesterday while sneaking under Mom’s back carport to get away with a gobble or two of fish out from underneath her while D33 glimpsed the new technique. We seem to see this every year and it always makes me smile at instinctual ingenuity!
We’re entering the time in our young eaglets lives where they are learning their food lessons. Sometimes that will be plentiful provisions and at other times slim pickings. Without sounding snarky, the message is … “get used to it”, as that is the lesson in the wild, and to be fierce and thrive is to be opportunistic taking advantage of what you find. DN9 is proving to be very resourceful in its archeological nestover digs and has already gamely gulped down several found bones, and we alternately gaped and gagged sitting on the sidelines watching a still joined leg bone go down, down, down the hatch as well as a rounder, flatter bone that was gulped part way, spit out, and gulped again. We know that strong stomach acids aid in dissolving calcium-rich bones and extracting the minerals, but how the heck does that fit?
All the eaglets are eating well, and you only have to look at oversized crops to measure the meals going in the gullet. What might seem gamy or gross to us is gourmet for our little gastronom’s.
- At Decorah North … the parents have brought in 45 prey items since my last tally and DN9 has indulged in: fish, fox squirrel, pheasant (with an egg), cowghetti (cow placenta), gray squirrel, possum and unidentifiable food objects termed ‘mystery meat’, as well some found bones.
- At Decorah (hatchery nest) … the parents have hauled home 89 meals for D32 & D33 for a variety of: fish, 2 rabbits, squirrel, bird, and some mystery meat. Of note is Mom’s impressive use of the Buy-1-Get-1-Free Coupons at the hatchery for 4 trips in with two fish at a time, including 3 trips just yesterday with a fish in each foot within a 40-minute time span. Wow, SuperMom!!
We’re also seeing each of the eaglets nibble away at prey while waiting to be served, and in pulling prey from a parent they are increasing their neck strength to better master the pullback needed in neck muscles to rip their own bites. They will need better leg strength and firm clampdowns on prey but those muscles are already being tested by standing and walking more, trying to hop while flapping wings, and beginning to get a foothold on nest fluff and sticks as they play. By next week they will be more proficient with practice.
There’s no reason to worry or to make a call to Eaglet Protective Services if the kids are unattended for some time during the day. Chances are the parents are close by, overhead or otherwise out of our view briefly, but eagle eyes are always focused on their offspring. They have shown us how devoted and nurturing they are when the weather changes and a mombrella is needed for weather or shade as everybirdie scoots under for comfort, cooling or warmth, or cuddles. There are lessons are being learned while on your own … becoming independent, surveying the sights beyond the nest rails and mentally mapping the immediate nest tree, alternately content with neighbor birds visiting or pilfering a few strands of fluff or wing-flapping at one if defending turf. When not snoozing, or squeeing, motor skills are honed tramping around the tarmac, moving fluff around, beak biting sticks, or as we learned from DN9, you are never too young to learn to take a pile of nesting and make your own bed! There’s a lot for them to learn … and us too … as we continue to witness and observe their daily lives. Enjoy every minute … the goalpost to their gateway keeps getting closer! And, ps .. please no more PS graffiti to our camera dome to block our view!
Sweet Eaglet Dreams!
Many thanks to RRP and our Volunteer Camera Crew for the exceptional viewing opportunities, and to our video makers who highlight the special moments of the day.