Mission: To promote the appreciation of wildlife and increase harmony between humanity and nature.

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Monday, June 25, 2012

Eva vs Albert

One of the most common questions asked when looking at one of the adult eagles is, Which bird is that? Is it Eva or Albert?

If the average female is around 13 pounds and the average male is closer to 9 pounds, this makes females nearly fifty percent larger than males. Even though their colors and markings are very similar the size difference should be visible. Yesterday one of the parents was at the nest and the other returned with a fish. Take a look at the following sequence of photos and see if you can determine which bird is Eva and which is Albert.

In the last two photos it appears quite obvious that the bird returning with the fish was the smaller bird, Albert. His stop is brief and then he is off to hunt some more. There are hungry mouths to feed.

After spending hours watching these two birds one begins to think you can see other differences as well. Alberts' face and legs are narrower, his body is on average smaller than the tree trunks just above the nest while Evas' body is actually larger than the tree trunks.
The feathers around Alberts' face are cleaner, however this may be a temporary situation. In addition Eva tends to sit on the branch closest to the nest while Albert tends to be a little further removed when and if he gets the chance to sit.

Last Chance to Vote:

It is looking like the naming of the eaglets is nearly decided with Beatrice and Eleanor leading the way. We will leave the voting open a few more days to give every one a final chance. If you would still like to vote.  Vote here.

Thank you for your interest.


Odds and Ends: One more?

This Waxwing on Foster Island appears to look at the serviceberry and ask, Can I really eat another one?
After careful consideration...
...that bright red one looks particularly nice.
Okay, but this is the last one.

Here is a parting shot of a Downy Woodpecker also seen last week at the Arboretum. It looks so small because it is our smallest woodpecker on Union Bay.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Eaglet Names - Please Vote!

Voting on eaglet names begins today. Please vote here.

The eaglets are growing at a fantastic rate. They appear to be 60 to 70 percent of the adult size.

Another way they are demonstrating growth is their response to a crow visiting the branches above the nest. One eaglet apparently slept through the visit. The crows' cawing caused the other eaglet, who is easily 5 to 6 time larger than the crow, to glance calmly up at the crow, look away and then yawn. 
The crow quietly gave up with the harassment and flew away. A few minutes later one of the parents (most likely Albert) returned with food.
The meal was fairly small and quick but for the first time the extended crop of one of the eaglets is visible. This pouch just below the neck stores food for later digestion.
It is also interesting to see the uneven covering of feathers. The early eaglet feathers are slowly being lost and replaced. It is as if their bodies are expanding faster than feathers can be generated. Not only is there a difference in the coloring of the feathers on their heads but the beaks of the younger birds lack the bright yellow color of the mature birds.
After the meal the adult perches on a near by branch. The eaglet cranes its' neck to make sure the parent has not gone too far away. 
Reassured and full the eagles peacefully enjoy the bright morning light.

Today looks to be another beautiful day. If you get the chance it would be a wonderful time to watch the wildlife on Union Bay. 

However before you go please don't forget to vote on names for the eaglets.  

Thank you!


Odds and ends: Flicker Mating Dance:

Friday, June 15, 2012

Name the Eaglets - Please Help!

Today Albert decided that there was too much fish in the family diet. Diving from a light pole on 520 he pulled a bird out of the air. He took his prey to the northern sculpture where a couple of crows harassed him hoping he would leave a meal for them.

He left, but he took dinner with him. Albert appeared to be working hard to carry the load as the crows gave chase.
He stopped twice more before he made it back to the nest. The last stop was in a cottonwood tree in the Beaver Lodge Sanctuary. At this point the crows had given up the chase but Albert looked visibly winded.
After resting for nearly 10 minutes he was finally ready for the last leg of the flight back to the nest.
The eaglets were happy to see dinner and Dad.

By the end of summer the eaglets will leave the nest and be off to find their own place in the world. In the meantime the only thing we can give them is names. Seattle is a creative place and we should come up with a long list of potential names for these eaglets. All suggestions submitted as comments on this blog prior to midnight on Monday night (6-18-12) will be compiled for your voting pleasure. On Thursday (6-21-12) the voting will begin. May the best names win!

We want these eaglets to feel special and we need to believe we have treated them right. We would like to make sure they start out on the right foot (or wing). We want all the best for them. The best food Union Bay has to offer, the best Broodmoor education (look out for those high flying little white balls) and the best names possible. 

One of the goals mentioned in the last blog was to inspire the creation of a salmon spawning pond that feeds into Union Bay. Not only would this help feed future generations of eagles it would also create a place for Seattle grade schoolers to release the salmon fry they help to raise from eggs. Given that the two public  grade schools that are closest to the nest are Montlake and McGilvra one possible set of names for the eaglets could be Monty and McGilvra.

Given that the two closest Seattle neighborhoods are Montlake and Madison Park. Another option would be Monty and Madison. 

While on the subject of names some might ask how Eddie, Albert and Eva got their names. Here is what we do and do not know. We do not know who named Eddie, "Eddie the Eagle", however there was British Olympic ski jumper in the 1988 Olympics who was referred to as "Eddie the Eagle". His skill on the slopes might have been seen as a parallel to our Eddies' skill at avoiding buses. Maybe this was what someone was thinking when they came up with the name.

In regards to the names for Albert and Eva. One must start with the fact that the name Eddie had already been given. When trying to think of a name for his replacement the first male name to come to mind was Albert. This was inspired from an old TV show called "Green Acres". The main characters were played by the actors Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor. This realization led to the name Eva for the female eagle.

Josephines' comment "I propose that we name the babies "Beatrice" and "Eleanor". And yes, those names might need to be changed if they're male." most likely stems from two other actresses who played in Green Acres. If we stay with the Green Acres theme the larger of the two eaglets, who seems to always be the first one to snatch food from the parents, could also be named Arnold, after Arnold the Pig in the Green Acres show. However there is no need to stay with this theme. We really want the best possible names.

Please put on your thinking caps. For the next few days, when you cross 520 and look up and see Albert or Eva spend the next few moments dreaming up your suggestions for the eaglets' names. Later, not while you are driving, please add your suggestions in the comments at the end of this blog.

Here is one more video to help inspire you to name the eaglets...
And a photo. Notice the changing of the feathers as the eaglets continue to grow.

Happy naming!


Monday, June 11, 2012

Life after Eddie - Threatened?

For the first time in over two months both parents are now occasionally leaving the nest at the same time.

A neighbor said they have seen crows harassing the nest in previous years but not this year. Maybe the crows are getting smarter. (To see an interesting new book on the intelligence of crows click here.)

Most likely the eaglets could fend off a crow or two. Even though the eaglets would be less experienced they are now equipped with better talons, beaks and instincts. It seems likely that an osprey could make short work of an eaglet. Still even when the parents are out of sight from a human perspective with their excellent vision they may still be monitoring the nest while they hunt.

The eaglets should be gaining weight at a rate of one pound every 4 to 6 days. Given that a full-sized eagle may average 10 to 12 pounds these eaglets could be as large as their parents sometime in July.  

Much like human infants the eaglets spend most of their time sleeping. However when the eaglets are awake they now resemble toddlers more than infants. They are clearly walking about the nest searching for bits of food, they stretch their wings fairly often and they must have a grooming instinct. Whether by instinct or training they have also learned to relieve themselves without spoiling the nest.

Another change this week is that Eva appears to be doing the majority of the hunting while Albert guards the nest. Albert seems to be more comfortable perched 10 to 15 feet above the nest somewhat hidden against the foliage that is the crown of the tree. Eva seems to stay a bit closer to the nest when she is around. Here is an example of meal time in the nest.

On Sunday morning (6/10/12) a bird of prey circled high above the nest coming in from the south. Immediately Eva started calling and raising an alarm. Albert who had been out of sight seemed to appear as if by magic. The adults continued to call out as they moved together to one of the branches 10 to 15 feet above the nest. It would seem logical that this might be the optimal defensive position. Being above the nest they could dive to defend the nest in any direction (e.g. all 360 degrees of the compass). In addition they would get a little gravity boost to help accelerate their defensive dive.

Surprisingly the bird of prey was not a crow or an osprey or even one of the great blue herons that reside on Union Bay. It was a juvenile and yet full-sized bald eagle. It takes about 4 years for an eagle to reach maturity and become ready to mate. During most of this time they are the size of a mature eagle but they lack the white head and white tail and they are considered juveniles. Clearly the parents saw this bird as a threat to their eaglets.

The juvenile eagle circled a few times, inspecting the nest before proceeding in slow, lazy circles to the north over Union Bay. Eva and Albert's quick response averted the threat.

On Monday morning an osprey headed towards the nest but then quickly changed course and flew north towards Union Bay.

Unfortunately for the parents there is another threat approaching their territory. When the new 520 cuts through Foster Island and the nearby wetlands it will disrupt their food chain. If the impact is too great and if the work is done in spring or summer the eagles could end up with eaglets they are unable to feed. See the heading below entitled, "More Thoughts on 520" if you are interested.

Name the eaglets:

In the mean time this years eaglets appear to be healthy, growing and in need of names. Last week Josephine commented "I propose that we name the babies Beatrice and Eleanor". It seems like it would only be fair if everyone got to propose names for the eaglets and then we all got to vote. Before you decide on your suggestions take one more look at the eaglets.

The older one is considerably larger and more developed than the younger one. Maybe their size or age might influence your choice of names. In any case at the end of this week all names suggested in the comments to this column will be compiled. The follow week we will arrange a vote. Hopefully, the most creative and appropriate names will win!

Let the suggestions begin!


ps: My daughter just taught me to edit video this weekend. Thank you! Lillian 

More Thoughts on 520:

The question isn't whether 520 should be expanded but rather how can the impact be minimized. 

  • Could construction in the wetlands take place in the winter or at least not when birds are nesting and raising young. 
  • Could the runoff from the new 520 be collected in one pond and then cleaned and fed into a second pond where salmon could be introduced. 
  • Could a fish ladder or stream be created to flow from the second pond to Union Bay. 
  • The grade school children in the Seattle Public Schools are raising salmon each year. Could their young salmon  be released into the clean pond? 
It would be incredible if the children actually saw the salmon return before they graduated from Middle School. These are not expensive ideas mostly they just require planning and forethought. Check the links section to visit other sites related 520.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Life after Eddie

Last summer Eddie, one of the Seattle eagles who commonly sat on a light pole over looking 520, passed away. The story is that he was flying parallel to a bus when he suddenly turned and flew into the bus. One possible explanation for his behavior could be that he saw his own reflection in the bus window and attempted to scare it away. 

After Eddie's demise the next question was what would happen to his mate? Eagles mate for life, which can be in the neighborhood of 30 years. Would she keep the nest, leave the nest or leave town all together? Happily, she kept the nest and took another mate rather quickly. What do you call the mate who comes after Eddie. Albert seems like the right answer. Does that make Eddie's mate, Eva? 

During the fall Albert was helpful around the "house." When he placed a new branch on the nest Eva reached over and adjusted its position. Albert moved it back to its original location. The two birds repeated this process a couple of times until Eva turned to Albert and pecked him on the shoulder. It was as if she was saying "Leave it alone, I have it where I want it." He left it alone. Among eagles, the the female is generally larger, and it is clear Eva rules the roost.

As winter passed there were long periods during which neither bird was at the nest. 
Still it was not uncommon to see one of them sitting above 520 or surveying Union Bay from the cottonwood tree on the north side of Foster Island. On sunny days they ride the updrafts and soar high above Montlake watching for their next meal. However on cloudy days, sitting in the cottonwood above the water allows them a nice view and a short dive for a passing fish or duck.

As spring approached the anticipation built. When would nesting begin? Would Albert be an adequate mate and parent? It is hard to believe that eagles actually choose to live and raise young in a city surrounded by a half a million people. Union Bay is a freshwater bay off of Lake Washington and in the city of Seattle. It is unique because even though it is in the city it has wetlands on both the north and south sides of the bay. Osprey return here in the summer from South or Central America. Trumpeter and Tundra swans come here to feed in the winter. Hundreds of birds live here year round and thousands of birds stop over during migration.
Around the end of March Eva started sitting on the nest. That weekend Albert brought a small fish back to the nest for her to eat. He might have been new to the job but he was making a serious effort. The nesting period ranges from to 2 to 3 months, however after an egg is laid it only takes about 35 days to hatch. April turned into May and every day one of the eagles was on the nest almost nonstop. It was impossible to see into the nest to know when the eggs where laid or when the eaglets hatched out. In any case they were initially too small to see in the middle of the huge nest.

This photo, taken on June 2nd, proves that the waiting is over. 
Generally, the eaglets must be sleeping because they are still not normally visible in the nest. However whenever a hunting eagle returns, the parent guarding the nest usually spots their mate and the food from a distance. The nesting parent's calls wake the eaglets and the whole family excitedly welcomes the meal, if not the hunting eagle.

On the south side of Union Bay, the parents take turns guarding the nest and hunting for food. Their efforts and instincts are not a lot different than our own. The young eaglets are growing day by day. They are the center of their parent's lives. Eva's focus on the future demonstrates nature's cure for bereavement and...
Once again there is new life in the nest that Eddie built.

Our challenge should we choose to accept it:

Thinking about new life on Union Bay should make us all consider what the future holds. We have been extremely lucky that 50 years ago citizens of Seattle decided to turn the Montlake Dump into the wetlands that are now the Union Bay Natural Area. This restoration has been a tremendous benefit to the natural life on Union Bay. 

As citizens of Seattle we have a responsibility to continue the restoration of Union Bay. Restoring a salmon run to the Arboretum Creek would be an incredible benefit to the eagles and ultimately to our children in the future. This would require funding to daylight portions of the creek and bring in additional surface runoff. Specifically, this would mean getting the water out of pipes and into the sunlight to recreate a natural stream in which the salmon can spawn. We would also need a united effort to dramatically reduce runoff pollution. However the biggest challenge is, How do we fund the effort? 

When you see Albert or Eva sitting above 520 imagine that they are asking,