EagleCam Updates - 2018
March 16, 2018
The eagle pair are late in their typical breeding pattern. There have been other eagles visiting the breeding pair as they attempt to nest, both adults and juvenile birds (birds under 4-5 years old) with violent interactions observed. The birds are not banded so identity is unclear, and it could be that the long standing female is no longer visiting the nest. We suggest you review and follow the social media sites, including the Facebook group Bald Eagles 101, where this nest is discussed, as many of the posters are long time observers of the nest and keep a close eye on the birds there. As we have said earlier, this degree of competition and disruption indicates a healthy bald eagle population, despite the fact that could be seeing a new generation of birds take control of the nest. Time will tell. We have kept an eye out for any injured or dead birds and have not seen anything. Other nests in the region have also been experiencing competition this year.
A big issue for this season will be if there has been way too much disruption for successful nesting to take place this year, whomever claims the nest. The nest site is easily observed by any eagle flying up or down the Potomac and may be attracting too much attention from any eagles without a territory looking for a prime breeding location. Time is of some essence as the young must fledge before the hottest part of the summer, as there will be no shade or drinking water available to them in the nest.
March 1, 2018
For 13 seasons we have all watched the NCTC Eagles, and it has been a wonder to behold. Some years we have seen three fledglings finally leave the nest, and other years have been heartbreaking to observe with new mates, ice storms, broken eggs, and empty nests. The enthusiasm over the webcam has brought together a passionate group of eagle fans who have grown to love the birds and gain a better understanding of their lives. We are privileged to be passive observers of wild nature.
It looks like this year may bring us another chaotic time. Our female has been in this nest for over a decade, and it looks like another eagle pair, or at least another female, is challenging the current pair for the nest territory. Because of this competitive activity, the egg laid the other day is likely no longer viable. My office overlooks the eagle tree, and things look very calm up there right now.
This nest is in a prime location, only a few hundred yards uphill from the Potomac and less than a mile from a dam that ensures an ample supply of fish. It is the perfect location. What eagle would not want it?
Our eagle biologists have told us for some time now that the population of bald eagles in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed is very healthy, and with this success brings great competition for nesting habitat. This is good news, as only 50 years ago the bald eagle was perched on the brink of extinction. The sometimes violent competition we have seen the past week or two is part of natural selection. In healthy ecosystems, this is how nature works, even though it can be cruel to watch.
We here at NCTC will continue to watch the situation, take your reports, and check around the nest tree. As you know, we will not intervene with wild nature, which is what we are witnessing. The only exception will be if we find an injured bird, we will get it veterinary assistance. We have not seen or found any injured eagles so far.
The success of the bald eagle, and all species in nature take many forms. While this display of competition is not easy to watch, we need to keep in mind that this is how nature works. Viewing this behavior before we had webcams and the Internet was only possible through careful research by a few intrepid field biologists.
Thank you for your continued support and understanding as we move forward. We would not have this community, nor the cam, without the help of all of our friends and partners – The Friends of the NCTC, Outdoor Channel and the Eaglet Momsters.
We’ll keep you posted.
February 27, 2018
The female finally laid an egg around 4 PM on Monday, February 26. From the footage available from our loyal viewers it appeared the female had to struggle a bit to pass the large egg. A 2nd egg may be laid in about 3 days and then possibly a 3rd, in another 3 days. Because of the cold, the eggs must be incubated immediately, with each egg needing to be incubated for about 35 days. The result should be a succession of hatching starting around Monday, April 2, creating a group of nestlings of different ages/sizes.
One lesson we can learn from observing our NCTC eagle pair over the past 13 years is that all bird species, great and small, face enormous challenges during their yearly breeding period ranging from fighting for nesting territory, building nests, laying eggs, incubating them in all kinds of weather, defending eggs and helpless young from predators, feeding their nestlings with the most abundant and nutritious foods, and getting the young fledged before the mid-summer’s heat begins. Many nesting attempts fail for a wide variety of reasons, ranging from harsh weather to disease or predation. Even after the young fledge from the nest they are dependent on their parents for food for weeks or a month afterwards. Many young birds do not survive the fledgling period succumbing to starvation, disease, predation and accidental injury from natural forces or human activity including window strikes, hitting cell phone towers, being struck by motor vehicles, and poisoned by pesticides, herbicides and industrial pollutants. We have been very lucky to watch a NCTC eagle pair usually successfully breed year after year through all kinds of winter and spring weather. Their success has mirrored the recovery of the bald eagle nationally with an estimated 100,000 birds living now in North America, with the largest population in Alaska and significant populations in the Chesapeake Bay, Florida, the Pacific Northwest, and in the Great Lakes.
February 12, 2018
(Judy Eddy photo)
As you can see, the eagles have added a few corn husks and more dry grassy material to their nest over the past two weeks. If the 2006 – 2017 nesting periods are any indication, the first egg should be laid roughly around Valentine’s Day. The eagles will lay 1-3 eggs, usually 2, typically three days apart. Both sexes will develop a bare brood patch on their chest to incubate the eggs. The female is larger and heavier than the male. Because of the winter weather, the eggs must be incubated immediately to remain warm and viable, even before the entire clutch is laid. As each egg must be incubated 35 days, the eggs will begin hatching a few days apart in mid-March, resulting in nestlings of different ages/sizes.
January 16, 2018
(Judy Eddy photo)
Over the several weeks, the pair of bald eagles at NCTC will be preparing their prominent nest for egg-laying which is likely to occur in early or mid-February. We have observed fresh plant material in the nest and the birds have been spending time roosting together. Although neither of the birds are banded, so their identity cannot be completely assured, they are presumed to be the same pair of bald eagles that has been together since 2011, with the female presumed to be the same bird utilizing the nest since 2006. Eagles typically remain paired for as long as they live and they will often return to the same nest year after year, with the birds living 20 years or more. Bald eagles reach sexual maturity, attaining a pure white head, at the age of four to five years. Bald eagles feed primarily on fish, but will also capture ducks, geese, snakes, turtles, groundhogs, squirrels and rabbits. Roadkill deer and other carrion are also readily consumed.
The bald eagle builds the largest nest of any North American bird and among the largest tree nests ever recorded for any animal, weighing up to a metric ton. During the last five years at NCTC there was ample evidence of intense territorial competition as a few adult birds have fought over the site to determine who would claim the huge structure located at the top of a 100 foot-tall sycamore.
The larger female will lay 1-3 eggs and both birds will continually incubate them during the harshest weather. The bird’s large size means that they have enough body mass and heat to incubate eggs even in sub-freezing temperatures for the necessary 35 days. They begin incubation as soon as the first egg is laid. In winter they can only leave the eggs uncovered for a brief moment or they will become chilled and the embryos will die. In last year’s attempt, the 2 eggs hatched normally but both young died within a few days of hatching. Sufficient fish appeared to be available to feed them, but both eaglets seemed to lack a degree of vigor. Most years, 2 young have been fledged from this nest.
Bald eagles nesting in our region usually stay here their entire lives, as long as they have access to open water to feed on fish. The resident Potomac and Shenandoah Valley population appears to be growing and there is great competition for the best nesting areas. The Chesapeake Bay Region is also an important stop for bald eagles migrating from other parts of North America during spring and autumn.
Thanks to all of our fans and partners for your support.
December 19, 2017
January is almost here in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia, and the pair of American bald eagles at the National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, have been busy preparing their nest for another nesting season.
This is the 13th season that the nest has been active. The female first built the nest in 2006, and her current mate joined her in 2011. The birds are not banded with either metal or colored leg bands, so identifying the birds is a matter of close observation.
The bald eagle builds the largest nest of any North American bird and has the largest tree nests ever recorded for any animal, up to 13 feet deep, 8 feet 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 nest tree here along the Potomac River is a 120 foot tall sycamore that is beginning to show its age, with the main trunk holding the nest in only fair condition. We have some concern that severe weather could break this trunk, causing a catastrophic loss of the nest. So “fingers crossed.”
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. Last year two eggs were produced yielding two eaglets who both perished.
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.
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.