Bald Eagles are magnificent, awe-inspiring raptors. No doubt, they strike terror into the hearts of smaller creatures. I have seen ducks, woodpeckers, and others carefully consider a circling eagle. They often look like they're wondering if the eagle has locked on and is coming for them.
With sufficient awareness and time, most smaller creatures can probably escape an eagle. Eagles pick their prey carefully. I suspect they focus primarily on the slow or inattentive. Those who survive in an eagle's territory are not just lucky, they are likely to be alert, observant, and agile. I think of eagles as evolution in action.
These are the talons of an immature eagle. The hallux, i.e. the single forward-facing talon, can be almost two inches long on an adult female. Click Here to read more.
While mating, male Bald Eagles close their talons/feet into a ball shape, so they do not harm their mate. I suspect both genders do the same thing while taking care of the young in the nest.
A huge Thank You to my friends Susan Ott and David Ralph. On Saturday, they noticed that the Montlake Cut Bald Eagles already have new eaglets. Susan and David's excitement, hospitality, and willingness to share their joy was contagious. I felt like running down the street shouting, "Monty and Marsha have young in the nest!" Instead, on Sunday with the afternoon sunshine highlighting the nest, I quietly waited for the chance to see more.
Initially, the nest appeared empty. Apparently, the warm weather released the parents from the immediate need to provide warmth. However, I had no doubt that one of the parents was close by. Monty often hangs out on a branch above the nest. By perching with a height advantage he can easily descend and defend the young from danger.
Susan had mentioned that she thought she might have seen two young in the nest. This fuzzy photo is my first proof. In the front left, one eaglet's head was obvious in the sunlight while behind it the top of a second head can be seen in the shadow. A third eaglet is possible but unlikely.
Surprisingly, for the next two to three months the young apparently survive without water, until they learn to reach it on their own.
After a short while, Monty returned. At this point, the survival of the young is totally dependent on the parents. No one else will bring them food. No one else will guard them with their lives, while remaining constantly alert day and night.
For over an hour, Monty sat in the nest. Occasionally, the top of a little white head could be seen wandering around the nest to his left.
Finally, Marsha returned. Among eagles and other raptors, the females are generally larger. Not only does Marsha's bill look larger her heavy brow makes her look far more fierce.
When she returned both adults exchanged greetings. Not surprisingly, since Marsha is the larger bird she has a deeper voice.
Marsha stopped "talking" first and Monty chattered on with his shrill almost-squeaky voice. Marsha said something more and then flew away from the nest. Monty followed.
After a few moments, Marsha returned to the nest and Monty landed nearby. I wonder if someday humans will learn to understand Bald Eagle exchanges. Did she say, "I have fed." or "It's my turn." or possibly "How are the kids?" or "Time to find more food."
Maybe their language skills are less developed than these phrases imply, but they might also be more sophisticated. Maybe she mentioned a precise location on Union Bay where the fish were feeding? I don't know - but it sure would be fun to find out.
For a moment, she extended her wings. Often open wings help an eagle balance as they walk or hop about in a nest or tree.
Suddenly, she pulled them back, one of the young had stood up in the nest. Its mouth was open but I was too far away to know if it made a sound. I suspect it was begging for food. Marsha appeared to reconsider whether she could avoid the eaglet while entering the nest.
Carefully, she moved to the right half of the nest.
Once there, she started removing chunks of gray fur from the body of some unfortunate creature.
Soon, Marsha unpackaged the prey and began feeding the young. Although, as Susan pointed out, previously, some of the chunks seemed surprisingly large. Young eaglets must come equipped with an inclination to swallow sizable amounts of food in short order.
Eagles, and other raptors, have a crop. It is a wide spot just below the throat that allows them to store a large amount of food before digestion. I suspect it also enables older birds, that have learned to fly, to carry food less obviously and possibly improves their weight distribution.
This photo is from the Broadmoor nest in June of 2012. As eaglets grow, their plumage changes, and they gain weight. At this point in their development, the crop is particularly obvious.
Speaking of gaining weight, when an eaglet hatches out of an egg it weighs less than an empty coffee cup. During the following three months females can gain as much as a pound a week i.e. All About Birds implies that adult females can weigh more than 13 pounds. Imagine the weight of a ten-pound bag of sugar and three one-pound bags of coffee.
That may seem like a lot of weight but I think it is amazingly light - for having a potential wingspan of more than six feet.
In the next few months, these young eaglets should become as large as their parents, grow feathers that are longer than the adults, and learn to fly. In approximately six months, they should be fully self-sufficient and out on their own.
Although, until they mature, in four and a half to five years, they will most likely roam about with other immature eagles. I suspect there is safety in numbers and maybe as a group, they improve their odds of finding food.
The biggest danger during the next couple of months is that the young could potentially fall from the nest - before they have learned to fly. Three out of Monty and Marsha's first four eaglets fell from the nest. Fortunately, all three found their way to PAWS and were healthy and able-bodied at the time of their release.
If you happen to see one of the eaglets on the ground the number for PAWS is:
Have a great day on Union Bay...where nature lives in the city!
ps: For the safety of eaglets, and a vast number of other young bird species, Spring is a great time of year to keep dogs on their leashes.
Each of us, who breathe the air and drink the local water, needs to watch and protect our local environment. Native plants and trees encourage the largest diversity of lifeforms because of their long intertwined history with our local environment and native creatures. I have been told that even the microbes in the soil are native to each local landscape. I hope we can inspire ourselves, our neighbors, and local businesses to respect native flora and to support native wildlife at every opportunity. I have learned that our most logical approach to native trees and plants (in order of priority) should be to:
1) Learn and leave established native flora undisturbed.
2) Remove invasive species and then wait to see if native plants begin to grow without assistance. (When native plants start on their own, then these plants or trees are likely the most appropriate flora for the habitat.)
3) Scatter seeds from nearby native plants in a similar habitat.
4) If you feel you must add a new plant then select a native plant while considering how the plant fits with the specific habitat and understanding the plant's logical place in the normal succession of native plants.
My friend Elaine Chuang shared several resources (that were new to me) from the January Washington Ornithological Society meeting. The major new concept is that specific keystone native plants enable critical moths and caterpillars that in turn provide food for the great majority of birds, especially during the breeding season. Here are the top two links from her list.
Native Keystone Plants for Wildlife:
Resources for adding plants to your Pacific Northwest Garden:
Click Here to access a King County publication that explains the best placement for a wide variety of native plants. It looks quite helpful.
Also, my friend Tom Brown pointed out that the application named 'Wildflower Search' is very helpful. Click on the highlighted link to see for yourself.
Also, Jane Lundin has created a small package, with a lot of critical information that looks quite handy, and light, for backpacking in the mountains in Springtime. It is titled, Mountain Wildflowers of Washington.)
Another idea that integrates perfectly with living in harmony with nature is the concept of Forest Gardening
. Native Americans collected and nurtured dense multi-layered gardens of native herbs, plants, shrubs, and trees that produced food and herbal medicines. Even after 150 years of no maintenance, the gardens are essentially intact and the diversity of life remains significantly higher than in the surrounding forests. Click Here
to learn more.
In the area below it is my intention to display at least one photo each week to help challenge us to know the difference between native and non-native lifeforms.
Is this currently blooming plant native to our area? If so, which one is it?
Scroll down for the answer.
Trillium ovatum: Yes, it is native to our area. Click Here to learn more.
The Email Challenge:
Over the years, I have had many readers tell me that Google is no longer sending them email announcements. As of 2021, Google has discontinued the service.
In response, I have set up my own email list. With each post, I will manually send out an announcement. If you would like to be added to my personal email list please send me an email requesting to be added. Something like:
Larry, I want to see more of nature. Please add me to your personal email list.
Thank you for your patience and interest!
My email address is:
The Comment Challenge:
Another common issue is losing your input while attempting to leave a comment on this blog. Often everything functions fine, however, sometimes people are unable to make it past the robot-detection challenge or maybe it is the lack of a Google account. I am uncertain about the precise issue. Sadly, a person can lose their comment with no recovery recourse.
If you write a long comment, please, copy it before hitting enter. Then, if the comment function fails to record your information, you can send the comment directly to me using email.
My email address is:
A Final Photo:
Watching for danger, I suspect.