Jun 13 2009

The Bald Eagle Saga

Published by at 8:26 pm under eagles

I had wondered why we were seeing the eagles so frequently.  I was thinking (um..hoping) that maybe they had a nest nearby, but could not find it.

Well, we finally found it…with two baby eagles in the nest.

So, now I knew why the parents were so disturbed when I was in the area.

When I went to take some more pictures on May 1st, there was only one baby in the nest.  In hindsight, I should have gone to check below the nest, but we had been trying to stay away from the nest as much as possible so as not to disturb them.  We had read online that sometimes adult eagles will abandon the nest if there is too much activity in the area.

We had been touch with Dave Kramer, a biologist at VA Tech.  He’s involved in banding bald eagles with the Center for Conservation Biology at the College of William and Mary.  On May 5th they came up to band both “juveniles” (their terminology)(they had not heard that there was now only one in the nest).  So, when they got there and we went up to the base of the tree, we found the missing juvenile.  It was still alive!  Not sure how long it had been down there on the ground, but at least 4 days.

They immediately abandoned the tagging in order to try and save the injured bird (with the concern they were showing, you’d have thought it was an injured child on the ground!).  Below, Keri (left) and Justin get the bird’s vital signs.  They did not want to move the bird any more than necessary thinking that it probably had maybe a broken wing or leg or maybe both.

They put blinders on the bird which helps keep it calm so it won’t struggle and injure itself further.  They rushed it to the Wildlife Center of Virginia (click the link and make a donation!).  They initially thought the eaglet would make it when they left it there.  It did have a badly broken leg and was very dehydrated.  (Justin left, Dave right in the photo below)

The Wildlife Center gave it a blood transfusion from one of the adult eagles they had there (the iron level in the eaglet’s blood was zero when it got there) and put it in an incubator to keep it warm, but it passed away sometime the next morning.  Here are two photos that the wildlife center sent us:

We had read online that only about 40% of baby eagles survive to fly.  We had wondered why the survival rate was so low and Dave said some of it is just sibling rivalry.  The eaglets get pushing each other around competing for food and one of them sometimes gets pushed out of the nest.  The nest is definitely a first year nest, so there’s not a lot of room up there.

On May 7th Dave and Keri came back to band the other eaglet.  Since Justin couldn’t make it, they asked if I would help them do the banding!!  They told me to just beware of the “sharp parts”, two feet and the beak, when I held the eaglet.

The parents kept an eye on what we were doing:

Love this picture…staring each other down.. 🙂

Dave climbs the tree and puts the eaglet in a bag and then lowers it to the ground so that Keri can do the banding on the ground.  Once in the dark of the bag, the eagle doesn’t struggle.

Keri put blinders on the eaglet before she removed it from the bag and then put it on its back for me to hold.

Once on its back, the eaglet just layed its head over against my arm.  And yes, below I’m keeping an eye on the eaglet’s beak which is resting on the inside of my arm.

Look at those feet!!  (Sue is taking the pictures, I asked for a closeup of the feet!)

They take blood samples (to check for any type of poisoning), a small feather sample, and lots and lots of measurements.  They were pretty sure that the one we are banding is probably a male.  It’s smaller than the other one that died.  Males are smaller than the females and from what they told us, that is the ONLY way to tell males from females.

Back in the nest:

Parents still looking on…

So, I went out this afternoon (June 13th) to see what was going on.  We’d checked on the nest from time to time but had tried to leave them alone after all the trauma of banding.  The adults aren’t around as much now, since the eaglet is large enough to defend himself from hawks and such, both adults go off to forage for food to keep the “baby” fed.

From what Dave had told me, I thought we had another week or two before the eaglet would be able to fly.  Well, I missed it a bit!  When I got there today the eaglet was on the nest.  I was going to go around where I thought I might get a better angle on the nest for a few photos.  Once I had gotten in position, I happened to look up and there was the eaglet in this old dead tree!  I checked the nest to make sure it was the same one and sure enough, there was no eagle in the nest.  I got a few photos of him on the tree before he flew off….and flew off quite well!  Evidently he’s been able to fly for a little while now.  That’ll be the next project to get some of him flying.

You can see the bands on his legs.

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4 responses so far

4 Responses to “The Bald Eagle Saga”

  1. Jayneon 15 Jun 2009 at 8:18 am

    Doesn’t look a thing like he did 6 weeks ago! Thank goodness!!
    Good summary.

  2. Susan McCurryon 15 Jun 2009 at 10:55 am

    Thanks for this pictorial…it was so interesting and the pictures are great!!!

  3. Jane Grayon 15 Jun 2009 at 11:23 am

    Awesome, John! What a success story – he’s beautiful! I wonder what next year will bring? 🙂

  4. Wendyon 15 Jul 2009 at 8:52 am

    Beautiful photos ! I found your web site today and love your passion for what you do . It shows in each photo. You know how to work the camera. Love the mushrooms and the rain ones too .

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