It's June 16th and I think it is safe to say that most, if not all, of the Bald Eagle eaglets in western Pennsylvania have made their first flight. The photos in this photo blog post were made four weeks ago and the single eaglet in the nest was very close to "branching". In branching, eaglets move from the nest to a branch and flap their wings and jump off the branch. This behavior helps to strengthen flight muscles and acclimate the eaglet to life outside the nest.
Accompanying me to the nest this day was my Canon 1DX MKII camera body, Canon EF 600mm f/4 L IS II USM lens, and Canon EF 1.4 III and Canon EF 2.0 III extenders. I needed the longest reach I got to bring the nest to me. As I reached the small opening providing a view of the nest, I noticed both adults were perched in nearby trees with leaves blocking my view, ruining any chances of good photographs. Acknowledging that I would need to be patient, I sat and watched the juvenile in the nest as it occasionally flapped and stretched its wings. You can see the flight feathers in the wings; they are growing in nicely.
The female left her perch first, circled a few times and as she disappeared, the male flew into the nest.
It is very interesting watching an active birds nest. It doesn't even need to be an eagle. Other than when they are feeding, what else could they possibly do? Not to ruin the suspense but I'll tell you now that I did not get any shots of the eagles feeding nor did I photograph food being brought to the nest. What I did capture this day is all the other activity that can happen on a daily basis.
I usually see a lot of rearranging going on in the nest. I guess the female will put branches where she wants them and the male will come along later and move them, and vice-versa; an activity very similar to humans.
After some time on the nest, dad decided to move off the nest to a nearby perch. A perch most likely used by the juvenile when "branching" occurs.
What a beautiful sight this was. The mostly cloudy day provided a nice light evenly illuminating the nest and the far hillside of newly emerging leaves.
During or after preening, birds like to shake off. You can see little pieces of down feathers being shaken off the bird.
"Look dad, someday I'll have a white feather just like this".
When the eaglets are this far along, they don't need to be fed quite as often so it isn't odd for a parent to fly off and not return to the nest for several hours. I love the inquisitive look on the juvenile as dad stretches his wings and tail.
The eaglet is trying its hand at redecorating. In all seriousness, it's probably no different than when you leave your dogs alone for hours without toys. They find things to occupy themselves. I guess it's no different with wildlife.
There was about five minutes of excitement at the nest that day. A hawk came to explore. It wasn't a red-tailed Hawk for sure. Based on the few glimpses I got through the treetops, I think it was a Broad-winged Hawk. Dad eagle didn't appreciate the hawk coming around his nest. As you can see in the next photo, he was on alert. Also, notice the juvenile. With the threat of danger, it began to make itself less of a target by laying low in the bole of the nest.
Dad became very vocal as the hawk ignored any warnings and began inching closer and closer to the nest. Notice the juvenile now. He is almost invisible in the nest.
Here is a four and a half minute video compilation of the day. In the first few scenes the adult is watching his mate circle above. Notice the relaxed state of the juvenile. Then there are a couple scenes of the juvenile exploring the nest. And finally, the next couple scenes are of the adult intensely watching a hawk circling the nest tree. You can see by the body language and his vocalizations that he is agitated. During the time the predator is in the area, you will notice how the juvenile nearly disappears into the bole of the nest. It is a fine example of the instincts and survival habits of wildlife.
Please note: during the video, the clicking sound you will occasionally hear is the focusing mechanism in the lens. I think I've said this before but I need to begin to carry my external Rode microphone so internal camera and lens noises aren't recorded as loudly.
After all the excitement is over, the warm sun puts dad to sleep.
As a side note, I want to tell a short story that happened to me while sitting in the woods watching this nest. It was very quiet and I have to admit that there are times when I'd even get a little sleepy. I heard some noise like somebody was walking toward me so I slowly looked up from my relaxed state and saw two White-tailed Deer walking up the hill directly toward me. They were panting pretty hard as the hill is very steep. They got to within 10 feet of me before they finally saw me. Actually, I reached for my cell phone to take a picture and that movement got their attention and they ran off.
That finishes my day watching a Bald Eagle's nest. Like I said earlier, this juvenile is now a fledgling. It will still hang around the nest site and mom and dad will still bring it food but I'm guessing another round of survival training already began. I'll leave you with one more photo of dad sitting on a branch, guarding the nest and protecting his family.
Thanks for looking,