Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A break from nesting?

I still can't figure out where my favorite bald eagle pair are nesting. I see one or the other in one of the favorite "keeping watch" trees. And because I'm not seeing them together in those trees, I'm assuming that one is sitting on a nest...somewhere. One of my neighbors photographed them mating, so that's probably what's going on. This pair has typically hatched babies about this time and we start seeing fuzzy eaglets by mid-May. They develop pretty quickly and are ready to fledge (fly the nest) anywhere from mid-July to mid-August.

Something's different this year, though. There are more eagles of varying ages fairly close to the nesting area. They normally wouldn't allow any other eagles nearby and would be keeping pretty close watch.

 Last night, I watched one of the pair (mama, I think) talk to kin flying high above the nesting area. There was another adult and a juvenile eagle, about two years old. Then mama took off and joined them. 

I watched them for about half an hour in two different locations. Mama flew with the other adult eagle (papa?), then did flight maneuvers with the juvenile eagle. Then they all glided off to the Nisqually delta.

More images in my Eagle Season gallery. 

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Greeting the eagle clan

Eagle pair photographed June 6, 2016. Mama is on the left.
This is my seventh season observing longtime bald eagle mates and their extended family in western Washington State. The pair I've been photographing have been nesting in the area for at least 12 years. Since bald eagles are 4-5 years old when they start nesting, this pair is at least 16 years old.

Photographed June 15, 2016. Papa is on right.

A quick overview about bald eagles. These magnificent raptors can live 25-30 years in the wild. It takes about four years for them to develop their distinctive white heads and tails. Coincidentally, that's also when they seek a lifelong mate.

I've visited the nest area a few times since January. I would see one eagle but not two. I began to wonder if one of them died. About a week ago, I was unloading groceries from my car and two adult bald eagles were gliding above my neighborhood. I saw dark object go down about 50 feet from my backyard. Then I saw the other eagle flying right above the street about 20 feet. I looked up at her and she looked back. I called "what are you guys doing?" And they flew off empty taloned. I suspect they were hunting one of the large numbers of cottontails in the area and hoped they weren't trying to pick up a neighbor's cat! Bald eagles can carry about 6-7 lb. but have been known to try for larger prey.

Bald eagle pair spotted a few blocks from my house - in the opposite direction of the nesting pair I observe.
I'm still not sure if this was "my" pair but I felt better about the prospects for this season. This pair is usually hatching eggs in late March and nurturing eaglets in April. If they are working on the same general schedule, this had to have been another pair. I have friends on the other side of town who have spotted a bald eagle pair frequently. And we're seeing more adult bald eagles in our neighborhood. Perhaps another nest in the area...but not too close. Eagles are territorial and protect the nest area during breeding season. The nest area is usually 1-2 square miles.

Papa eagle getting in better position to talk to other members of the eagle clan.
Yesterday at midday I spent about an hour photographing papa eagle. He didn't leave his sentry post, except to get to a more open branch to talk to his kin. I could hear mama but can't tell where the nest is located. She sounded like she's farther back in the woodland, which will be challenging to photograph. I met a neighbor who I hadn't met before. He told me that he photographed the pair mating at the end of February. That would put them on schedule for nesting.

Papa spotted two adult bald eagles at least 200 feet above us (the below image of the two eagles was cropped from a photo taken with a 600-mm lens) and engaged in a few minutes of what I call "chortling." When eagles aren't happy with a visitor or want to scare a creature off, the use more of a shriek that travels a long way. This chortling call is also loud but used when mates greet each other or other kinfolk.

More photos of my favorite nesting pair for the 2017 season are in my Flickr gallery, which I will be regularly adding to this spring and summer: Eagle Season.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Family visitors

Two-year-old bald eagles visit the nest.
There have been a variety of visitors to our nesting pair's nest, that I believe are extended family members - perhaps kids from past years. Eagles make a very distinctive sound when they are with their mates and other family members. I describe it like a chortle. They also make a very distinctive sound to warn other birds away. And, sometimes, that's their kids from a prior nesting. A lot depends on what stage the babies are in. If they've hatched and the babies are close to full size, there's less risk that another predator (even an older sibling) will pick off a newly hatched baby.

Adult bald eagle accompanied the two-year-olds.

The visitors last week were two juvenile eagles, about two years old, and two adult eagles. Are they children and grandchildren or all children from earlier nesting. This pair has been nesting in this area for at least 10 years, according to homeowners adjacent to the nesting area. Adult bald eagles get their white heads and tails when they're about four years old. That's also when they seek a mate.

Mama talked to the youngsters from the nest and papa greeted all from a nearby tree.
I'm regularly adding new images to my Nesting Bald Eagles album on Flickr.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Taking turns

One parent tends to the kids while the other makes sure
they are safe.
Either mama or papa are present in the nest at all times. I still can't see any eaglets but this nest is really obscured. Both parents guard from the side where I'm photographing, then enter the nest from the far side of the tree.

Keeping watch can be from the branch above the nest or from one of the trees on either side. There have also been visitors that they have welcomed with their characteristic chortling sound they reserve for kinfolk. Everything I've learned about bald eagles from books and articles tells me that a nesting pair won't let other raptors within a mile of their nest. I'm beginning to think that there are a lot of things we don't know about eagles because we nearly lost them in the 1960s and 1970s to DDT and other human-caused sources.

Two youngsters, about two years old, fly
along the ridge about 2 blocks from the nest.
This pair regularly welcomes adults and juvenile eagles - I assume they are earlier children or maybe siblings. They've been nesting here for more than 12 years, so at least seven of those former children are adults now. Bald eagles don't get their characteristic white heads and tails until they are mature at 4-5 years old. That's also when they look for a mate and begin nesting.

Nesting is an integral part of eagle life. One of the keepers at Northwest Trek told me that the golden eagles and bald eagles who live at Trek regularly engage in nesting activity, even though they are the same gender. So they are supplied with plenty of nesting material.

More on visitors to the nest in my next post. Meanwhile, I have begun posting many more photographs in my Nesting Eagles album on Flickr.

Entry to the nest is on the far side of the tree.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Keeping watch

Most evenings, mama and papa eagle take turns watching over the youngsters. At this point, I don't know if there's more than one. It's really tough to see anything in the nest except mama glaring at me between the branches.

Yesterday evening, papa kept watch from he nearby snag, which he often shares with a group of starlings that appear to be nesting close by.

I didn't see mama come back from hunting for dinner, until papa departed from his favorite watching spot. I'm hoping to see a fuzzy eaglet head moving around but the nest is very well obscured. I might not see much until the baby or babies start branching, which they do for a few weeks before first flight.

More images of my favorite eagle pair from this year and 2015 can be viewed in my Flickr gallery. Enjoy! Nesting bald eagles

Tuesday, April 5, 2016


Mama comes in for a landing
What I've observed in past years is that eagles sitting on eggs takes a few weeks. Mother eagles don't leave the nest if the temperatures are lower than about 60 degrees Fahrenheit, unless eaglets have hatched. This evening, papa eagle arrived in one of the trees near the nest tree. He and mama talked back and forth, then mama flew out of the nest to the tall snag a bit farther from the nest tree.

Mama groomed herself and was freaking out a pair of starlings that were nesting nearby. There have been several of the birds in the vicinity of the snag.

Papa grooming with nervous starling nearby
Papa then flew to the nest tree. That's when I realized it was mama returning to the nest tree. How can I tell? Mama is about 20 percent larger than papa and has a deeper bill. I can tell them apart when they're close to each other but often mistakenly identify one for the other.

The way the nest is built this year should protect it from winds that have brought a couple of their nests down in past years. But it's really challenging to try to figure out whether the eggs have hatched. I'll have to just wait for babies to show themselves. In past years, it's usually mid-to-late April when fuzzy little eaglet heads are visible.
Mama flies to the nest tree

Mama talks to her mate before flying back to the nest

Mama back in the nest

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Nesting begins

Mama eagle is barely visible from my favorite viewing spot. This year's nest is in yet another spot. In a tree they nested in two years ago but on the lee side. Hopefully, it will be enough protection from the winds we often experience on our bluff 200 feet or so above Puget Sound.

I'm now checking on the nest a few times a week. Part of my observation is how mama interacts with other birds and her mate. There so much we don't know about the lives of animals. Bald eagles are territorial and usually would not let any raptor near their nests. I've observed this pair frequently spending time with other adult and juvenile eagles, less than a half mile from the nest. One year I photographed a 3-year-old bald eagle that stayed in a tree next to the nest tree for at least 20 minutes. Observing parenting behavior? Acting as a guardian? Checking out possible vulnerabilities?

While I was there yesterday, papa eagle flew by with one of their children from either last year or the year before. I've seen similar behavior in past years - sometimes they chase off the kids, other times they greet them. Could this be the next phase of training the kids in the ways of the eagle?

Papa and youngster greeted mama with their characteristic chortling call they use with kin. Papa and youngster made wide circles over the nest, twisting their heads in all directions to make sure she was doing okay. Mama called back but wasn't moving much, which means she's probably working her hatching magic.