Eagles, eagles, eagles: Nestflix from Decorah, Decorah North, and Fort St. Vrain

Love is in the air at Fort St. Vrain, Mr. North and DNF shovel snow, DM2 makes a brief visit to the nest, and Mom and DM2 perch on the maple. It was great to see them: happy Fri-yay, everyone!

Decorah Eagles
January 24, 2020: DM2's awesome wingspan

January 24, 2020: DM2’s awesome wingspan

1/24/20: Mom and DM2 perch on the maple https://youtu.be/EiNhAeEVKnw. We know it’s winter. We know that eagles aren’t always active in the cold. We know that Mom can open her tender right eye and see well enough to perch and fly. We were still glad to see her with DM2 this afternoon!

1/24/20: Nice fly-in, short nest visit by DM2https://youtu.be/HEFOyNlQSlM. Winter has finally arrived in Decorah and N2B is covered with snow! DM2 starts flying in :39 from the direction of the retaining pond. Slow the video down to see how he flies into the nest, seeming to float in as he sticks the landing. We give it a ten! He quickly looks around the nest (‘Snow? Again!?’) before flying out.

1/22/20: DM2, Mom on N1, the Y, closeupshttps://youtu.be/MtvPpw0hvKE. Mom and DM2 look pretty as a postcard in the opening of this video as the two sit on the Y with snow falling softly all around them. I loved the horses playing in the snow at 2:48 and the close-ups of DM2 at 4:18. Pause the video at 4:35 to see his secondary feathers lifting in the wind and the fine, soft down that keeps him warm in the coldest Iowa winter! We see close-ups of Mom at 9:38 (note: the camera operator is trying very hard to get us a picture of her right eye). She preens at 11:24, digging and pulling her feathers to clean and straighten them. At 11:51, she swipes her nictitating membrane across her right eye (I recommend slowing the video down) and rouses at 14:18 (slow the video down once more: her feathers are beautiful!). At 14:45, we see her right eye again. She is keeping it closed to protect it from irritants and cold, dry weather.

Decorah Eagles North
January 24, 2020: Mr. North and DNF

January 24, 2020: Mr. North and DNF

1/24/20: Snowy housework at Decorah Northhttps://youtu.be/cQUpSoz18EI. Nestorations continue from yesterday as Mr. North and DM2 fly into the nest and dig more material out of the snowbank covering their nest. The camera moves in at 1:33 to give us a close look at the two. I loved the tug-o-husk that started at 1:52, followed by some gentle face-to-face beak nibbles! DNF pushes in close to Mr. North, moving him out of the way so she can scrape snow from the nestbowl and wrap cornhusks around herself, shaping the soft material to the contours of her body. The two fly out not long afterwards.

1/23/20: The Norths continue working even in the snowhttps://youtu.be/bs9XsgoxXrQ. Every midwesterner knows that work doesn’t stop just because some snow falls: indeed, a snowstorm is often just the beginning of a lot of work! DNF flies in to start the process of removing and covering snow, despite the noisy starlings that are distracting her. Mr North arrives at 4:26 and the two dig in the nestbowl before both of them are distracted by something. At 6:24, Mr. North pulls a load of grass out from beneath the snow and begins spreading it over what will be the location of the egg cup. They give top priority to this part of the nest as egg-laying draws near! I especially enjoyed 12:03, when DNF pushes snow out with her breast and scrapes with her feet to enlargen the bowl and get some snow out of the way. Mr. North and DNF make great progress!

Xcel Fort St. Vrain Eagles
January 24, 2020: Ma and Pa FSV

January 24, 2020: Ma and Pa FSV

1/22/20: FSV bondinghttps://youtu.be/0KXMI8dp9-Q. What a change from Iowa! Fort St. Vrain is warm and dry and the eagles are a little further along in their nestorations. The nest is carpeted with grass – no corn here! – and an egg cup is starting to take shape. At about 12 minutes, Ma FSV begins vocalizing and walks up to Pa. She makes her interests very clear and he assumes a receptive position while she vocalizes, leans over him, gently foots him, and rubs against him before mounting him. When she’s done, he vocalizes, she indicates receptivity, and the whole thing happens again.

We know a lot more about eagle bonding than we did back in 2011! At the time, it was believed that eagles didn’t bond very often outside their fertile periods, which begin roughly ten to fifteen days before egg-laying. While female eagles were receptive to bonding, they didn’t initiate it or assume a dominant role during copulation.  But bird cams have revealed a whole new world! Eagle couples bond well outside their egg-laying period,  although bonding becomes more frequent and intense when eagles are at or near peak fertility. Both male and female eagles initiate bonding and either one may assume a dominant (or receptive) role during copulation. Territorial eagle couples are usually monogamous and are not known to participate in extra-pair bonding, but mating systems may include three bonded eagles instead of two. Whatever an eagle’s inner landscape looks like, their pair behaviors are clearly richer and more complex than we once thought. The more we learn, the more questions we have!