What’s On The Menu This Season at Our Nests?

By Sherri Elliott

As the nesting season comes to a close we tally up all the prey deliveries we’ve caught on camera at Decorah Eagles and Decorah North Nest to provide an overview of the level of partnership between a bonded pair as well as the variety of food sources available in the nest territory and individual protein preferences within a habitat. By looking at daily deliveries we also key in to cycles of their season…courting and bonding before egg lay; the time between egg lay and hatch; after hatch to provide for their eaglets; and post fledge what may be seen on camera either delivered to the nest or hunted and fished in the natal nest area. The data we collect adds to our seasonal history while providing insight into pair dynamics, nutritional needs, sustainable habitat and family outcomes. Additionally by comparing and contrasting our two nests in Decorah…the city hatchery nest and their country cousins in a remote valley flyway, we can study two truly unique ecosystems and their bounty.

July 21, 2020: Possum carrion in the creek! D36 left, D35 eating, D34 top waiting

July 21, 2020: Possum carrion in the creek! Left to right: D34, D35, and D36

So how much food does it take to keep a bald eagle pair fueled and still supply the nutritional needs of their family? Let’s just say that P’s ply their peeps with a plethora of prey protein and their propensity to procure provisions is planned, precise, proficient and at times phenomenal! The breakdowns are as follows.

Decorah Eagles
April 18, 2020: A fully-stocked pant-tree!

April 18, 2020: A fully-stocked pan-tree!

This was the second season for the partnership of Mom and DM2, and they were almost equal again in partnering prey provisions for their three eaglets D34, D35, and D36 with a total of 686 meals seen on camera. They included:

  • 335 meals provided by Mom;
  • 346 meals provided by DM2, and;
  • 5 times the fledglings self-fed on carrion they found in the creek.

Also included in the total count are the 56 meals that Mom & DM2 ate themselves (solo or shared) before the first hatch.

Protein Count
  • Fish (644)
  • Squirrel (10)
  • Rabbit (8)
  • Raccoon (3)
  • Duck (2)
  • Deer (2)
  • Bird (2)
  • Pheasant (1)
  • Chipmunk (1)
  • Mink (1)
  • Field Mouse (1)
  • Toad (1)
  • UFO/Mystery Meat (5)
  • Possum carrion found in the creek (5 meals)

With their prime real estate next door to the hatchery, and adjacent streams, it’s easy to see the majority of their diet is fish while other protein accounts for 42 meals.

Most unusual prey this year is a tie between the duck hen that was gravid (carrying an egg), and captured the fascination of D34, or the toad from DM2 that was past its prime and everybirdie spit out after taking a taste, and Mom took it to the trash.

April 29, 2020: D36 with duck egg

April 29, 2020: D34 with duck egg

Noteworthy this season are 16 days with double digit prey deliveries. We had 17 deliveries on 6/15, and 15 items delivered on 5/3 and 5/11. We also saw that both Mom and DM2 like to use their BOGO coupons at the hatchery! Mom had 11 deliveries of 2 fish at a time, and DM2 had 5 deliveries of 2 fish at a time.

How does this compare to last year? DM2 was a new partner, so there’s a bit of a learning curve, and there were only 2 hatchlings, so a little less provisioning but still fairly equal partnership in provisions. They provided 468 meals for D32 & D33 up until their early fledge the first week of June, and of that 416 were fish, and 52 was other protein.

Decorah North Nest
June 26, 2020: DN12 and Mama DNF

June 26, 2020: DN12 does not care to share its fish!

This was the second year for the partnership of Mr. North and DNF and they too were almost equal in procuring prey. They produced two eaglets this year, DN11 and DN12, but sadly DN11 passed at just 10 days old from an obstruction in its throat that it could not clear. While we would have loved to watch the two siblings have a season of companionship, camaraderie, and bonding, it was wonderful to watch DN12 grow into a beautiful and fierce raptor who still thrills us after fledge with an exceptional view into its Outdoor School lessons.

The year round creek in the North Valley provides a variety of fish but they also rely heavily on other protein found in their territory. A total of 340 meals were seen on camera. They included:

  • 164 meals provided by DNF;
  • 174 meals provided by Mr North, and;
  • 2 deliveries or drops to the pasture where we were unable to identify the parent. One of those drops was a raccoon head which DN12 quickly stole and toted it home to eat in the nest.

Included in this count are the 56 meals eaten or shared by Mr & DNF before the first hatch. Does that number sound familiar? I was surprised that it was also the same number of meals that Mom Decorah and DM2 shared before their first hatch! What are the odds of that?

Protein Count
  • Fish (200)
  • Squirrel (13)
  • Rabbit (13)
  • Raccoon (9)
  • Muskrat (7)
  • Fawn (7)
  • Birds (5)
  • Pheasant (4)
  • Duck (2)
  • Groundhog (2)
  • Mole (2)
  • Possum (1)
  • Coot (1)
  • Skunk (1)
  • Cowghetti (13)
  • Fur-bone-pelt (13)
  • UFO/Mystery Meat bits of who knows what (47)

The most unusual prey this season was the skunk that was delivered today, a first for this nest. I know that everybirdie has to eat, but I admit to being a little sad seeing the young red tail hawklett brought to the nest by DNF.

July 24, 2020: A skunk in the North nest!

July 24, 2020: A skunk in the North nest!

How does this season compare to last year? Mr North and DNF had 2 eaglets last season, but DN10 perished at barely a day old, and DN9 had an accidental fledge on June 6th, 2019 and our season abruptly came to a close when she was rescued and sent to SOAR for rehab and eventual release. We saw a total of 253 meals in 2019, and of that 145 meals were fish, and 108 were other protein. Another point of comparison between solo eaglets raised this year and last is that DN9 had a proclivity and panache when it came to swallowing long jointed bones and never met a food she didn’t like. Whereas DN12 didn’t have a hankering for bones and it truly turned into an acquired skill to get them gulped down. DN12 also was very independent, fierce and mastered the art of bowldozing a parent to flat mantle the prey while squeeeing mine-mine-mine, but could easily plop in front of a parent and chit chatter to be beak fed, and something we witnessed just a few days ago with a private feeding from Mr. North. Kids!!

Special thanks to RRP volunteers and friends who shared notes with me to make sure that our counts were accurate and appropriately attributed to each pair partner. As the saying goes, “it takes a village,” and of course that includes you! Thanks for watching, caring and learning with us!!