EagleCam Updates - 2016
Click image for the photo gallery:
July 8, 2016
2016 was another productive nesting season for the NCTC eagles. From laying eggs in early February to hatching on March 16 & March 18 to windy fledging events on June 8th and June 10th, the adult eagle pair and their offspring experienced each event successfully. Diet assessments of the prey indicate that fish were the primary source of food fed to the offspring, followed by waterfowl, and several species of road kill. While both parents fed the offspring, the female performed the majority of the nest surveillance and feeding and the male sourced most of the prey. Parental behavior occurred as expected, consisting of regular feeding patterns that only dropped off as the eaglets grew to be as tall as the adults by mid-May. Wing exercises and hopping behaviors were followed by self-feeding by the juveniles as the nesting period drew to a close.
Weather conditions impacted the nest this season in the form of unexpectedly high snow fall, 20 days of rain in early spring, and wind storms through the spring and early summer. Through it all, the offspring practiced walking, hopping, wing exercising, and finally branching on the nearby stump. Finally in early June, each juvenile, now dark and as tall as the adults, took its turn fledging from the nest (aided by gusty winds). Each returned within one day or two, showing that nest success has occurred for the adult bald eagle pair. Eventually, they will leave the area and become nesting eagles in a new location; yet whether they return or settle in new locations, this season’s birds are examples of breeding success for the NCTC nest, which has a long record of successful breeding.
Many have asked questions about the Eagle Cam camera and its potential to show a daily viewing of the nest. Due to severe wind and weather events in June, both cameras in the tree are presently offline. We are currently showing a long range still view of the sycamore tree from a still camera on campus. Once we have evidence that the juveniles have finally left the nest for the season, the NCTC Tech and Facilities teams will approach the nest to assess the condition of the cameras, which were have been affected by lighting or storm storms in June. We expect the nest visit will be in August.
We here at the National Conservation Training Center would like to thank you for your engagement this year with our eagle family, and we look forward to reconnecting next Fall.
June 14, 2016
After last week’s turbulent weather events resulted in fledging for both juveniles and caused two semi-controlled descents due to wind gusts, our NCTC biologists determined that both birds had left the nest bowl area. The smaller eaglet was seen in the tree at a lower level, until it flew away to return the next day, June 9th. Although the nest was empty, the adult female visited following the fledging, and once the juvenile returned the next day, a fish delivery occurred. Strong vocalizing by the eaglet preceded its rapid consumption of the prey delivery.
After a 3-day departure, the older juvenile returned to the nest on June 11th, marking an important developmental step for the eaglets. Nest success for raptors is estimated as the proportion of raptor breeding pairs that were observed to raise young to the age of fledging (Steenhof and Newton, 2007). The long nesting cycle and the parenting behaviors of the bald eagle resulted in the desired outcomes for the species (self-feeding and fledging).
Nest proximity to food sources and availability are the primary drivers for success, and have been shown to also drive egg-laying rates in different latitudes. This pair foraged successfully throughout the nesting period, only dropping the rate of prey deliveries closer to the 10-13 week of age range. As noted in previous posts, lack of moisture coupled with high temperatures may have driven fledging sooner than expected, but in the case of this nest, windy days moved the eaglets to test their newly developing wing skills. Since the fledging period has occurred, we will see how long before the eaglets move to new permanent locations and no longer frequent this nest.
As noted in the recent blog post, we are simply observers of nature using webcam technology. Human interest in observing nature without disturbing it can be traced back to our days as hunter-gatherers where we constructed observation blinds. From then to now, we have been offered a rare glimpse of their private moments, (mating) births, (feeding) deaths, and other events but how far we involve ourselves into their lives warrants careful consideration and action.
The Raptor Research Project offers an interesting point of view in an article by wildlife biologist, Julie Lamb. Follow this link: http://daily.jstor.org/wildlife-cams/.
June 9, 2016
June 8, 2016 was a crazy day for the NCTC eagle nest. In the morning, one of the juvenile eagles was seemingly blown off his perch. The bird did a semi-controlled descent and was observed to land on the ground and then fly up into some adjacent trees. Our land manager subsequently searched the area under and around the tree and could not find the bird.
Just before 8 PM, the second juvenile also accidentally left the nest. An NCTC biologist was called to determine the status of this bird, and it was observed perched on a limb in the tree.
Both birds had been branching (a developmental stage when the chicks work their wings and explore surrounding limbs) for several days, so it may be flying very soon.
We expect they will return to the nest for food. Time will tell what the status of this bird is.
A video was captured of the morning accidental fledge moment and you can view it here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=qNCPJjecgdk The second accidental fledge was videotaped and can be seen here: https://youtu.be/Ayy50z5B8SU
Please note that we observe wild nature through this cam. We do not interfere with the natural activities and mishaps of these birds.
That said, if a bird was found on the ground injured, we will intervene and bring it in for veterinary treatment, to be hopefully released at a later date.
May 29, 2016
Juvenile development for the 12 week old eaglets is occurring as expected at the NCTC nest.
Both birds are displaying typical behaviors seen at this stage: feeding themselves, perching, and most recently, branching.
Diets choices within the nest at NCTC have been consistent with little variation in type. Fish were the primary food selections brought to the nest, often by the male adult. Occasionally, the adults feed the young, but typically one of the adults consumes part of the prey, then either leaves the nest or moves away, allowing the young to access the food. The older eaglet quickly descends on the prey, followed by the younger sibling. One variation in the fish prey deliveries last week was a box turtle brought to the nest and quickly devoured. Independent feeding by both eaglets is an important skill to develop, and this pair seem right on track.
Perching in the nest involves standing on a structure, such as the nest edge or a branch, and peering down to scan for potential prey and other movement. Interest by the eaglets in what was occurring near the nest edge was previously observed. When the adults roosted on nearby branches, the young often laid down nearby at the very edge of the nest, giving them a new view below the nest. As standing for longer periods became the norm, the older eaglet replaced laying at the edge with standing and peering over the edge. The younger eaglet soon followed this behavior, and now both birds are routinely observed perched side by side at the nest edge.
Wing displays have become much more frequent and vigorous, important in muscle development needed for flight. Primary displays include wing extensions, hopping, flapping, and preening. During week 10, we observed an impressive display by the older eaglet, who stretched out both wings while standing in the nest for approximately 2 minutes! Dark, flight feather development is occurring in the younger eaglet whose feathers show fewer patches of grey & white feathers than before. Throughout week 11, the eaglets took turns flapping and practicing mini flights within the nest bowl. So on March 26th, a perfectly timed event occurred: the older eaglet flew to a nearby tree stump and perched as the younger sibling watched. Branching had occurred for one of the offspring. Branching involves flying to nearby branches in the sycamore tree and exploring the surroundings. During branching, the young will continue to stay in the nest and tree, in order to be fed by the adults at this stage. The next steps should be for both young birds to begin branching so that fledging, or first flight, which typically occurs during 12 weeks of age, can begin.
May 9, 2016
rains during Week 7 did little to hamper the appetite and growth of the
at the NCTC
nest. Food deliveries continue to be diverse, although fish is the
typical food provided. We again saw game birds and carrion during the week
of rain, which may have played a role in food sourcing. Despite the
weather, the adults were relentless in providing for nest‐bound
chicks, so that the necessary calories and nutrients are obtained. Towards
the end of Week 7, the eaglets were observed feeding themselves. The older
eaglet even tried to be assertive by wrestling food from the parent;
a good sign that independence and self‐reliance
behaviors are emerging on schedule! With four weeks remaining in the
nesting period, the food sources are essential so that growth, muscle mass,
and feathers develop normally so that fledging will occur on
feathers begin to slowly cover the natal down, which will aid the chicks in
maintaining body temperatures. Longer, warmer feathers mean that the adult
eagles can brood the young less often, unless bad weather persists. The
adults can instead spend time roosting in a tree, watching the sky
for intruders or away hunting. The staff at NCTC confirmed the presence of
an adult nearby on branches of the nest tree or flying overhead. Last
week, many viewers noted that the adult female was absent from the nest
for a long period. During her absence, the adult male was present seen in the
nest, and within a 24‐hour
period, the female returned. It is important to note that raptor parents will
begin to transition their young from constant care and presence so that
independence, self‐reliance, and fledging behaviors are
encouraged. Factoring in the similarity in size between the parents and
their young at this time helps us to understand why the presence of 2
large and 2 almost full sized chicks would make the nest quite crowded!
April 25, 2016
At approximately 6 weeks old, the eaglets are standing in
the nest, walking around, and spreading their wings, which shows that they are developing
appropriately at this stage. Dark juvenile contour feathers are replacing the
soft, grey down in patches, making the birds appear multicolored. The older eaglet has juvenile feathers
covering most of its back, yet eventually the feather displays will be similar.
Features on the beaks are more pronounced, with length and color changes
occurring. Along the mouth opening, the color is changing from pale pink to
pale yellow, beginning to look like an adult beak. The eaglets are almost as
tall as the parents when standing. Balancing on their feet continues to be a
new skill along with wing stretching and flapping. They practice walking from one side of the
nest to the other side, before congregating together along the edge.
Many viewers noticed the adults away from the nest last week
for long periods of time. It is important to remember that when out of camera view, the
adults are possibly foraging or soaring above the nest to warn off intruders in
their territory. Actually if you listen, you can often hear eagle calls close
to the nest, and this indicates that one of the parents is often nearby. Now
that they brood the eaglets less often during the day, they will roost on a
branch of the sycamore tree. If you watch the eaglets, you’ll see them
frequently fix their gaze upwards towards an unseen object. Our team observed
one adult sitting in the tree directly above the eaglets early Monday April
25th! As soon as an adult returns, the eaglets walk over to seek food or to be
near the adults. On warm days last week, the adult, typically the female,
spread its wings out and mantled the eaglets, which hovered under her so as to
be protected from the midday sun. This is innate behavior the adult displays to
enhance the survival of its young who cannot get water except from its food
Fish was the dominate food delivery last week. As each eaglet feeds, pay attention to the
large bulging area under its beak. That bulge is called the crop,
a muscular pouch that functions as a storage space for excess food. You have noticed that the adult continually
feeds the eaglets large strips of food.
Once the stomach is full, the excess is held in the crop
until the stomach has room to digest the next portion. The eaglets release food
from its crop to the stomach, digesting small portions until the crop is
emptied. Since eaglets need lots of food during the rapid weight gain stage,
the crop serves as an essential adaptation for birds.
April 18, 2016
Our eaglets are growing rapidly, and each day display behaviors and features one would expect of a 3-4 week old chick. The eagles are now in the nestling period of development. Signs that their development is proceeding on course are: facial features become more distinct, the natal down feather patterns becoming darker and denser, increased wing movement, and evidence of a large crop. In the last two weeks, we have observed the young move around the nest, no longer simply laying in the nest bowl. This was a major accomplishment, and we saw each eaglet find a corner of the nest, to spread its wings, and display those large yellow feet. While they appear to be quite large, most 3-4 week old eaglets only weigh around 2-4 pounds, depending on the hatch date. Occasionally, both parents were seen away from the nest, but never for extended periods. Often the parents are roosting in the? ?tree above them, or as we saw last week, both parents were patrolling the sky to stake their territory and warn predators who may be too close to the nest.
A wide variety of food has been brought to the nest over the past few days. Fish continue to be a constant food source for the nesting family, yet within this week alone, the adults brought three prey deliveries to the nest that were... birds! We observed the remnants of a duck (identified by feather patterns), and another duck, possibly a grebe (identified by its foot shape). Finally, we were fortunate to catch the moment when the female land into the nest with a grey bird in her talons. This bird (possibly a pigeon), was plucked and distributed to the chicks all within a 10-minute time period! Watching the parents feed themselves as they feed the young, gives us an indication that they are choosing food sources that are beneficial to all the nest dwellers. Food sourcing is a major part of an adult eagle’s role ?at this crucial time, and as generalist feeders, eagles show that they are flexible and willing to diversify their diets, especially when it comes to their offspring!
April 4, 2016
The past week was
chock full of dramatic changes in the nest for the 22 and 24 day old eaglets. We
observed several family feedings, routine changes of the guard, and high
winds that rocked the
nest both day and night. The nest, in a large sycamore tree, is holding
steady, but nesting pairs
are at the mercy of weather conditions. An eagle nest lost an egg in
Milford, Conn. after 75 mph
winds on February 24, 2016 caused a branch to break, and the nest to crash to the
ground. The Hanover nest in PA lost an eaglet over the weekend, and the
second, unhatched egg has been left alone, likely not viable. We must all
remember that we are watching wild nature, which can sometimes be very cruel to
our large winged friends.
eaglets are displaying a few feather changes, although primarily covered in natal
down. Last week, tiny pin feathers began to form on the chest and wings of
the oldest eaglet. Pin
feathers become new feathers once thin shafts of tissue eventually split
open and grow to full
size. The new feathers will still be down feathers, but will be much
thicker, offering enhanced
warmth to the eaglets. The older eaglet was sitting outside the nest bowl for
a few hours last
week, but typically both hatchlings are keeping warm under the adults. In
time they will grow new
feathers, and have up to 7,000 feathers on its body essential for flying.
The nest continues
to be full of a diverse diet including lots of large golden redhorse fish and evidence of
bird prey. The adults feed the young approximately every hour, and the
weight gains typically seen range between 45 pounds per week. You can also see
in the picture that
the older eaglet
is developing rather large yellow feet, almost adult size! The eaglet cannot
those feet yet but
juvenile and adult eagles use their talons for hunting and defense.
when the parents are in the nest, their talons are curled under to avoid
the eaglets as
they brood and move around.
Our camera has
zoomed in and out to offer the viewers close shots of the eaglet development.
Occasionally we will zoom in close to the nest bowl, then will zoom back out
later in the day. Please bear with us as we try to give the best options
to all observers of the NCTC Eagle Cam.
March 24, 2016
On March 16th and March 18th, we experienced the asynchronous hatching of two eagle eggs at the National Conservation Training Center. Approximately one day after hatching, sounds and chick movement could be heard and seen in the nest.
The parents take turns feeding and sitting on the young to keep them warm and protected. They are vigilantly watching for predators by scouring the sky for potential threats and occasionally signaling through calls. When not seated on the chicks, they stand right beside the nest bowl observing the chicks. The chicks are covered with their first set of feathers called natal down feathers. These are fluffy, grey feathers but do not provide much warmth, so the parents will only stay off the nest bowl for brief periods. After day 10, natal down will change into thermal down, a warmer thicker feather, followed by juvenile feathers. Facial features are developing rapidly with a beak colors changing from black to black and white at the bridge of the nasal areas. Large black eyes opened after 1¬2 days, allowing the chicks to begin observing their surroundings and locating the parents.
Competition for Food
The first eaglet has grown tremendously in one week and the size differences between the two eaglets is significant. Early in the eaglet’s life they begin competing for food. Food consists of strips of meat from fish and mammals. Feeding behavior between the two chicks is also different due to hatching dates. The older chick will be larger and often pushes ahead to get food, while the other chick is somewhat smaller, still developing structural muscles. The older chick makes louder sounds to get more parental attention, with the younger chick slowly beginning to chirp. All of these changes are very normal processes. The younger chick will very quickly develop the size, skills, and coordination needed to compete for food and attention. Competition skills are needed to ensure that strong eaglets can fledge and the next adult population is be fit and successful.
March 18, 2016
Two eaglets hatched this week in the bald eagle nest at the National Conservation Training Center near Shepherdstown, WV. The eggs, laid on February 8th and February 11th,are typically incubated for 35 days on average. Asynchronous hatching occurred, therefore once hatched, the eaglets will be of different ages and sizes.
The first of the eagle eggs hatched during the night on 3/16/16, after 37 days of incubating. One day after hatching, the eaglet began presented itself at the top of the nest bowl, and by the evening of 3/17/16, it was being feed fish by the parent.
The second hatching began Friday March 18th, approximately 36 days after being laid. Hatching began slowly, but the end of the day, and eaglet was released. As of Noon, the egg was broken and you can see movement. We'll keep our fingers crossed that everything goes well, and will update you on progress.
Both parents continue to take turns, often 2-3 times per day, sitting on the nest, getting close to the hatchlings, and making sure to cover the bowl. Rarely will the parents leave the eggs, and if this occurred, they return to brood within minutes.
The weather over the past few weeks gave us a chance to observe essential nesting behaviors from our pair: egg turning, nest raking, and mantling. Regardless of which adult is on the nest, egg turning occurs several times per sitting. This is done to ensure even temperatures for the embryo and to keep the egg in close proximity to the adult body. In the past two weeks, significant amounts of nest raking have been observed, where birds pick at moss and dry grass to maintain and re-shape the nest. This behavior also helps to insulate the nest bowl from cold drafts and precipitation. One, was seen on cold windy days when either rain or wet snow occurred induced mantling, a unique behavior that can serve two purposes. Mantling, done by spreading out the wings horizontally while seated is used to: a) shield the nest, eggs, and young hatchlings from weather, or b) cover a food supply from other predators.
Due to the unseasonably warm weather and direct sunlight, the adult eagles were seen panting while sitting on the nest bowl. This behavior is quite normal behavior for large, darkly colored birds, and a good sign they are attempting to thermoregulate their internal temperatures. Eagles give birth to young who are altricial (the parents bring nourishment to the eaglets initially), so any moisture they obtain comes from the food they ingest. If normal spring weather conditions return, those cooler temperatures will help the hatchlings (and the parents) to maintain their body temperatures and grow.
The nest camera angle will remain moderately close to the adults to ensure better viewing of the new offspring. As they mature and begin to move, views of the maturing eaglets will be easily seen from any angle.
February 11, 2016
Our eagles have a 2nd egg, laid around 6 PM Thursday.If all goes according to plan, this egg will
hatch on March 17th, St. Patrick's Day.Another
egg may be laid about 3 days from now, for a full clutch of 3 eggs.These eagles must start brooding their eggs as
soon as they are laid, because if they don’t those eggs will get cold enough to
kill the embryo inside. The result of this type of incubation process is
asynchronous hatching with a brood consisting of nestlings of various sizes
making feeding times often very competitive affairs.
February 9, 2016
Our eagle pair has an egg! It was laid on the evening on Feb. 8. Over the next week or so, about 3 days apart, another 1 or 2 eggs will be laid. Because of the normal winter weather, eggs must be incubated immediately as they are produced to remain warm and viable, even before the clutch is complete. As incubation is about 35 days, the result is that at full hatching, the nest will contain young of different ages/sizes. This first egg will hatch on about March 14, so mark your calendars.
Both female and male have developed bare brood patches to take turns warming the eggs, but the larger female will do most of the incubation work. In turn, the male will do most of the fishing/hunting during this period. The eggs are rolled over by either parent about every 1 or 2 hours to make sure that the lighter yolk does not rise to the surface and the delicate blood vessels that cover the yolk stick to the shell surface, killing the developing chick.
Only the biggest birds such as eagles, the largest owls and penguins are capable of cold season nesting, having the large body mass to create enough heat to incubate eggs and brood young in the harshest weather. The early nesting of the NCTC eagles means that the young will hatch just as the major spring runs of Potomac River fish, such as suckers, commence, as well as the spring hatching of other prey items such as Canada goose goslings or litters of rabbits. The early nesting also means the young are out of the nest before the hottest period of summer when moisture may be limited.
January 14, 2016
It is the beginning of 2016 and over the last few weeks, the pair of American bald eagles at the National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, have been observed carrying large sticks to prepare their nest for egg-laying that is likely to occur at the end of this month or in early February. This is the 11th season that the nest has been active. This is apparently the same pair of bald eagles that has been together since 2011 when a new male replaced the resident male that had been nesting with the same female since the nest first became active in 2006. The birds are not banded with either metal or colored leg bands so identifying the birds is a matter of faith.
Bald eagles reach sexual maturity, attaining a pure white head at the age of four to five years. During the last three years there was evidence of territorial competition as adult birds fought over the nest site to determine who would claim the huge nest structure located at the top of a 100 foot-tall sycamore. Last year, single immature dark-headed birds, possibly born from the pair in years past, were seen in and around the nest, before the adult pair's nesting behavior went into full swing.
The bald eagle builds the largest nest of any North American bird and among the largest tree nests ever recorded for any animal, up to 13 ft. deep, 8 ft. wide, and weighing up to a metric ton. The birds typically remain paired for as long as they live and will often return to the same nests, with the birds living 25 years or more.
The larger female will lay 1-3 eggs and both birds will continually incubate them during the harshest winter and spring weather, in snow, rain and high wind. Bald eagles feed primarily on fish with an occasional waterfowl, turtle, snake, groundhog, squirrel or rabbit taken as well. Roadkill deer and other animals are also consumed.
One to three young have been fledged most years at this location, with two young fledged in 2015, out of three young that hatched.
Bald eagles nesting in the region usually stay here their entire lives, as long as they have access to open water to feed on fish. The resident population appears to be growing and there is great competition for nesting areas. The Chesapeake Region is also an important stop for bald eagles migrating from other parts of North America during spring and autumn.
You have probably noticed the new camera, mount location, and enhanced picture quality. We are excited to see these birds from a whole new perspective this year.
Join us for this new nesting season. Please don't hesitate to ask us questions.
This project is a partnership between the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Outdoor Channel, and the Friends of the National Conservation Training Center. We also acknowledge the Town of Shepherdstown, WV, the Hancock Wildlife Foundation for their support; and the many dedicated eagle fans from around the country and the world who have been with us from the beginning of this endeavor.