Aerial photo taken after a logging operation along the Rappahannock River cut an eagle nest tree. This forest block supported a bald eagle nest for ten years prior to the harvest. Photo by Bryan Watts. (linked from The Center for Conservation Biology)
The Internet is captivated by the Hays bald eagle family nesting on a wooded hillside in Pittsburgh. Their nest is protected by the Pennsylvania Game Commission and worldwide media attention, but what happens to nests that aren’t so famous? Here’s the story of an unexpected consequence of removing bald eagles from the federal endangered list.
For 40 years bald eagles were completely protected by the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and everyone understood not to harm them. By 2007 the birds made such a great recovery that they were removed from the federal ESA listing. Fortunately they are still protected by a law of their own, the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act that protects eagles, their eggs and their nests.
The Center For Conservation Biology (CCB) in Williamsburg, Virginia monitors bald eagle nests in the Chesapeake Bay area where 75% of the nests are on private land. Each spring they fly over the watershed twice: once to count occupied nests, later to count chicks. Last month CCB reported what they’ve found after 6+ years without ESA protection: a real increase in the number of eagle nest trees cut down.
Bald eagles use same the nest for many years so when CCB flies over the area in early March, they look for known as well as new nests. Increasingly they find former nest trees are gone, cut down when an area is wiped out by a large logging operation like the one above.
Private landowners apparently don’t realize the Eagle Act protects the nest, so the well-publicized de-listing of the bald eagle has lead to an unintended consequence: disregard for the eagles’ habitat and nest trees. CCB points out that education of landowners is sorely needed.
There he is, the first eaglet of 2014 at the Pittsburgh Hays bald eagle nest. He’s hard to see because he matches the nest, hence the arrow. The two remaining eggs and his discarded eggshell (closest to Dad’s beak) stand out.
This tiny gray ball of fluff emerged on a warm and windy afternoon, March 28, under his mother’s gaze. As soon as he was dry she brooded him until Dad returned with food.
Click on the snapshot above to watch “Hays Parents Celebrate Hatch.” Dad has brought a fish to share. While Mom eats, Dad studies the eaglet. “Is he hungry?” Not yet, so Dad rearranges the nest. Mom leaves on a well-deserved break and Dad settles down to brood the chick.
Bald eagles brood their nestlings during cold and inclement weather until they’re about four weeks old. In the first week the brooding is almost constant because the nestlings can’t regulate their own body temperature. This also serves the dual purpose of incubating the unhatched eggs while keeping the eaglet(s) warm.
The first eaglet of the season hatched today in the Pittsburgh’s Hays Bald Eagle nest at approximately 2:30pm. In this YouTube video captured by PixController you can see the baby bird next to two eggs and his own eggshell. Then mom comes over to help.
Festivities tomorrow! March 29, 9:00am to noon, watch the nest at Hays — in person!
National Aviary Ornithologist Bob Mulvihill will be at the Hays Bald Eagle nest site tomorrow morning from 9 a.m. until noon with the spotting scope donated by Wild Birds Unlimited! Feel free to stop by for a really good look at the nest, maybe even catch a glimpse at what’s going on IN the nest!
Parking is available courtesy of Keystone Iron and Metal Co. in their employee parking lot at the end of Baldwin Road (see map), or use the address 4901 East Carson Street into your GPS!
The viewing site is a short distance from there: carefully cross the railroad tracks and turn left onto the trail. Bob will be about 200 feet down the trail with the spotting scope!
Click here for a map of how to get there.
Late Wednesday night, February 26, at 11:15pm a raccoon climbed the bald eagles’ nesting tree at Hays while a noisy train rumbled by in the valley. Mother Eagle was asleep but she heard the raccoon’s rustle and stood up to defend her three eggs. As the mammal crested the nest edge she opened her wings and took a few steps toward it. The raccoon turned and fled.
When you watch the encounter on this archived video from PixController you can see everything that’s going on, but the participants can’t. The nest is lit at night by an infrared lamp mounted near the distant camera. The camera can “see” the infrared light but we, the eagle, and the raccoon cannot. On that overcast night the animals were dark shapes to each other. I’m sure the raccoon was frightened to find an eagle!
Raccoons raid songbird nests because the songbirds are powerless to stop them but they avoid raptors because birds of prey will kill them. Why was this raccoon attracted to a bald eagles’ nest?
Scott Kinsey gave us the hint on PABIRDS yesterday morning when he wrote:
It has been fun watching the Bald Eagle nest cam from Pittsburgh. Finally got to see a feeding. I think it was the male brought a fish for the female at 10:39am. She had it done by about 10:47 and back on the eggs. Might have been a Gizzard Shad around eleven inches?
As Scott points out, the female eagle eats at the nest and though she sets the scraps aside she doesn’t take out the garbage. Lots of smelly fish scraps are up there on the sticks. The raccoon probably smelled the leftovers and came exploring for a meal. When he realized his mistake he was out of there!
This surely isn’t the first time a raccoon has explored an eagles’ nest at night. We just happened to see it because of the night vision camera. He was lucky he didn’t make a fatal error.
Click here to see what’s happening right now at the eagles’ nest.
In this video of the egg’s first on-camera appearance notice the reactions of ‘Ma’ and ‘Pa’ eagle…
The video begins with the mother eagle standing over her egg, waiting for it to dry. Her tail is spread and she’s holding her wings open to shelter the egg without touching it.
When the egg is dry, she gently rolls it with her beak and keeps her talons folded in as she steps near the egg. She is very careful.
Just before her mate arrives you can hear his “whee” call announcing his arrival.
Notice how much bigger the female is than her mate. This size difference is normal in birds of prey.
Both eagle parents rearrange the sticks, mosses and grasses in the nest. If you watch peregrine falconcams you’ll notice that peregrines don’t use sticks so there’s nothing to adjust. Watch closely and you’ll see peregrines rearrange the rocks.
Though the eagles are nesting on an extensive wooded hillside above the Monongahela River, the river banks hosts two active railroad tracks and a scrapyard. That’s why you hear mechanical and industrial sounds on the camera.
You can watch the eaglecam at several websites. My two favorites are PixController and the National Aviary. Click on a logo below to watch the Pittsburgh eaglecam. PixController’s has a link to the video archives.
Yesterday at Sax Zim Bog was bright, both day and night. It began with a full moon at -13F and peaked at 10F with this bird.
My Life Bird northern hawk owl was perched on top of a tree near the road, easy to see. He eyed us with suspicion as we trundled off the bus and stood in the road, staring at him. Do his eyebrows give him that disapproving look?
When he wasn’t staring back at us he scanned the bog for prey. I’ve read that northern hawk owls have perfected the technique of hunting by sight and can identify prey as much as half a mile away.
It helps to be in full sun if you need to see a vole at 2,640 feet.
p.s. Jess Botzan was lucky to capture this one in flight. I have never yet seen one fly.
I am really tired of cold weather and the effort it takes to walk around in heavy clothes and boots. I can hardly wait for spring and yet … I flew north yesterday to the Arrowhead of Minnesota where the high temperatures are lower than Pittsburgh’s lows, the lows have been -30F, and it snowed six inches yesterday. What was I thinking?
Jess and Brian Botzan were here last month and saw all the birds on my wish list: great gray owl, northern hawk owl, boreal chickadee, black-billed magpie, gray jay and pine grosbeak. Braving -50F wind chill Jess photographed this great gray owl at the very bog where I’ll be looking for one today. I hope to be so lucky.
So I’ve put on my long johns, corduroys, ski pants, turtleneck, thick wool sweater, polarlite cardigan, parka, Nordic earflap hat, two layers of mittens, wool socks, Sorel boots, face mask, bula and “Hot Hands” heat packets stuffed near my toes and fingers. I look and feel like a purple Pillsbury dough-boy but I am not cold.
My husband, who is too nearsighted to enjoy birding, has wisely stayed home.