By Sherri Elliott
Wheee! Squeee! Look at Me!
Oh Darling DN9, we are! If you only knew how many eagle eyes are focused on you minute by minute … not just your parents, but fans from all over the globe who marvel at every milestone marked. At 54 days and 7 ¾ weeks old, weighing 8-9lbs, over 2.5ft in length and a 5ft wingspan we’re saying Bye Bye Babylet and Hello Big Bird!
If you find yourself saying, “Geeze, it seems like just yesterday DN9 was ____ (fill in the blank)” you’re not alone. The changes aren’t just daily, they are almost hourly and if you happen to miss, it’s great to have the rewind feature and videomakers who save the day for us.
DN9 seems to have found every square inch of nest while traipsing around the tarmac and has also explored beyond nest rails and window box plants on the lower left side <gasp!>, to take a few steps onto the balcony searching for buried treasure discovering petrified prey, brittle and mostly bare bones and puffs of furry fluff to play with. Hiking has added steps to its Fit Bit activity tracker while building up leg and foot strength and boosting self-confidence and independence. Now we now see hop-downs after a hike to the rails for a PS, and hop-abouts just for the fun of it with one leg, both legs, or ta-da … eaglet marching band style with squee accompaniment. DN9 has advanced from wingersizing (standing in place and wing flapping), to hoppersizing (the energizer eaglet version rebounding and wing flapping), and the past few days with gusts of wind we’ve seen ‘windersizing’ where we have more than a couple of inches of lift-off while exercising. Today DN9 perfected hoppersizing and got a good 5-6 inches of air before descending with a firmly planted touch down to terra firma. DN9 gets bonus points on some of those activities by cargo loading as we saw hoppersizing with prey loaded in its beak, and pouncing on fluff to try and foot-load and carry away a prize. Am I allowed to take away points for hoppersizing on the nest rails today thinking it’s just too soon … or smile and say “YAY” for you?
DN9 is almost fully feathered and we’ve been treated to some exceptional close-ups of all those gorgeous color variations of feathers … some still with little downy fluff ends that look like fiber optic LED lights when standing at attention. S/he might not always be able to find the zipper on its prey but has no problem at all zipping the barbs of its feathers preening, or to pick and pull at keratin sheaths. Yoga moves have been added to some preening sessions with long wing extensions to get over, under, and through every spot that needs a spit bath, and a raised leg and foot up to take care of a face scratch can throw the eaglet chi balance off kilter sideways or result in an unexpected hiney plant.
Do you have to turn your volume down with DN9’s incessant squeees? Don’t! You’ll miss a wide range of vocalizations emerging in several pitches and octaves as well as a variety of chit chat, fast chittering, or chatterboxing in octet stanzas. Sometimes it’s hollering out to a parent overhead or perched across the stream, other times its food begging, and most often it is non-stop squeeing for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and between bites while those meals are dished. But when it’s soft and continual communication with a parent it reminds me of sharing all that has happened since the last one-on-one conversation and quite endearing.
The Squeeenami Siren is the most ear-splitting. That usually starts with a low crouched posture after spotting an incoming parent, and reaches a crescendo when accompanied with a menacing mantle, and stops with a foot grab … umm, I mean food grab, although DN9 does both. Mantle displays are spectacular from full outstretched wings to an enveloping semi-circle featherbrella to shield and pronounce mine, mine, mine! For the little eaglet that once refused a food bite that didn’t meet with its approval, or spit out a bite it didn’t want, DN9 now has a diverse palate and doesn’t refuse anything, and generally is on a nest hunt raiding the refrig to find even more. Our little gastronome could easily out-eat Andrew Zimmern in a Bizzare Foods episode! We’ve seen a variety of prey delivered in supersize and single-serve portions, and some of it remains a mangled mystery or is photobombed while feeding and hard to discern. But trust me, DN9 is eating well and is often sporting a tennis ball size crop. Snacking has been taken to a sport level watching DN9 down jointed leg bones, spines, fawn leg bones and what we think was a raccoon leg with the foot still attached, and we are alternately squeeeing NO, or gagging watching something go down the hatch. Mr. North took some trash out, and DNF was seen several times hop walking to stop an attempted swallow and try to assist by re-feeding in the proper direction or eating it herself. I’m trying to remind myself that bald eagles have very strong stomach acids as well as a gizzard to help grind up food, but I’m secretly wondering if DN9 might not have its own garbage disposal adaptation. Bones are digested, (and a great source of calcium), but all fur, scales, and other material that isn’t will come up in the form of a pellet. And DN9 has hocked some pretty big ones including a cigar size pellet yesterday.
Since my last tally, the parents have brought in 68 meals of: fish, cowghetti, fawn head and forelegs, squirrel, raccoon leg and foot, rabbit and multiple unidentifiable foods termed ‘mystery meat’. And that doesn’t count all the boneyard snacks DN9 found and consumed! Don’t be alarmed if the daily meal count drops off, because the parents are teaching DN9 to take advantage of what is delivered and to figure out how to unzip prey or sharpen its can opener. The purpose of hanging around with a take-out order is to not only imprint prepping prey but to make sure DN9 is feeding well. By next week we might be seeing more quick cargo drops and letting DN9 figure it out with some long-distance eagle-eye surveillance. This is a very exciting time watching our little sweetie get to the meat of the matter as we’ve seen by stripping bones bare.
I know some of you have expressed concerns about DN9 being an ‘only eaglet’ and wonder if development or social skills would be delayed with no sibling interaction. I think you only have to really observe DN9 especially in those downtimes when there is not a parent spending part of the day to see that all her/his needs are being met and DN9 is thriving and really getting all the attention and interactions from its doting parents, including some extra cuddle time at night with DNF who still stays in the nest at night. And DN9 makes excellent use of ‘home alone’ time during the day mentally map the outer fringes of the natal nest tree, exercising, exploring, and alert to cows and wildlife passing by and wing whacking intruding little birds.
This Big Bird is doing great!