Updates from the PA Farm Country Bald Eagle Nest
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Join the Game Commission in celebrating Pennsylvania's growing bald eagle population.
Immerse yourself in this view from the top of a big sycamore tree nestled in Pennsylvania farmlands. Bald eagles are wild creatures and it is important for us to keep them wild. Please refrain from naming the birds to respect them as wild animals. Also respect the privacy of the birds and the landowners, to whom we are extremely grateful for their enthusiastic cooperation in allowing us to share this peek into the lives of bald eagles. Periodic updates will be posted here and in the livestream chat. Enjoy! And remember, nature can be difficult to watch.
History at this site:
Eagles have nested in this vicinity for at least 15 years. It is believed that when a nest collapsed about three miles away, the pair built a new nest at this location. The eagles nesting in this area have successfully reared three young most years. Two adults have been spotted adding nest material since the cameras were installed in late October 2019. We can expect that the female may lay eggs mid-February and that viable eggs could hatch mid- to late-March. Young may fledge in June and continue to stop by the nest throughout the rest of the summer.
Bald eagles in Pennsylvania:
The bald eagle's history in Pennsylvania is a precarious one. Only 36 years ago, there were a mere three nests left in the entire state. With the help of the Canadian government, the Pennsylvania Game Commission and several other states reintroduced bald eagle chicks from Saskatchewan to the Northeast United States. Today, Pennsylvania boasts more than 300 nests and the species is no longer state listed as threatened or endangered. They remain protected under the Bald and Golden
Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. This 22-minute documentary tells the story of that success.
Learn more about Pennsylvania bald eagles at http://bit.ly/PGCEagleCam.
Bald Eagle Fast Facts
Bald eagles build the largest nest of any North American bird.
The wingspan of a bald eagle ranges from 5.5 to 8 feet.
Bald eagles are 28 to 40 inches in length.
An eagle may weigh 8 to 12 pounds.
Female eagles can be 25 percent larger than male eagles.
Both males and females will sit on the nest to protect the eggs or young, foraging for food or perching nearby when not at the nest.
Bald eagle egg incubation
Incubation begins as the female lays the first egg. The clutch of one to three eggs is typically completed within three to six days. Both parents share in the task of incubating. However, females spend more time brooding than males. During incubation, we will typically see only one eagle at a time, except when they make the incubation duty changeover. When an exchange takes place at this nest, viewers often make a note of the time in the chat below the live stream. Learn more about bald eagle nesting.
What's happening inside those eggs?
Check out this neat animation from The Cornell Bird Lab. Bald eagles start incubating with the first egg, unlike some bird species that wait until they have a full clutch of eggs before they start incubating. That means the egg laid on February 13 is several days more developed than the egg laid yesterday, on the 19th. Enjoy! https://academy.allaboutbirds.org/egg-animation-withtext_500h/
At what age do bald eagles breed?
Eagles do not breed until 4 or 5 years of age. Good water quality, riparian forests, and wetland habitats are vital for Pennsylvania's breeding eagles. As the population increases and optimal nesting locations fill up, we may start to see increased competition for prime locations. Learn more in our Eagles & Osprey Wildlife Note.
Bald eagles normally produce one to three young per year. One pair in Northampton County produced a record four young in 2009. If all goes well, the eggs begin hatching after about 35 days.
First egg: Thursday, Feb. 13; 4:24p
Second egg: Sunday, Feb. 16; 2:31p
Will there be a third? The eagles nesting in this area have successfully reared three young most years.
First egg Thursday, February 13: 4:24p.
Bald eagles generally have a clutch of one to three eggs with two the most common clutch size. One egg is laid per day, but not always in successive days, with the clutch completed in three to six days. Keep your eyes online Saturday afternoon, could be another big day for eagles in Pennsylvania.
Adults visited between 7-8a, 9-9:30, briefly at 10:20 and 12:15, and then hung around the nest between 3:45 and 5:45p.
What do 100,000 snow geese sound like?
If you haven't checked out the Snow Goose Cam from the Game Commission's Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area, now is good time! Snow goose numbers are highest during mid-afternoon, dusk and dawn. This morning there were an estimated 75,000 snow geese at the lake.
Adults visited the nest briefly on this damp, rainy day around 6:30a, 8:45, 9:50, and 1:20p.
Have you seen a bald eagle nest in Pennsylvania?
Complete the Bald eagle nest survey online. The incredible recovery of bald eagles means we need your help with monitoring them. Please let us know about the nests you see. By adding together everyone’s observations we can better identify all the new nests and track eagle productivity in the state. https://pgcdatacollection.pa.gov/baldeaglenestsurvey
It was a rainy day. Adult made many quick visits throughout the day between 6:30a and 4:30p and took time to grab a quick bite of chicken (perhaps).
The time-lapse feature reveals that adults visited the nest between 6:45-7:30a; briefly around 8, 8:30, 9:15, 10, 10:45, 5:30, and 5:45; and for longer visits between 2-3p and 6:30-7:45p.
#eggwatch - Let us know if you catch an egg appearance by noting the date and time.
Eagles will lay eggs in February through April, sometimes sitting on eggs when there is ice and snow on the ground. This is one of the reasons why it is not good to approach nests too closely. If you flush an adult off of a nest in the incubation period you can expose the eggs to cold air, causing nest failure. The rain is supposed to continue through Friday. Learn more at: https://www.pgc.pa.gov/Wildlife/WildlifeSpecies/BaldEagles/Pages/FromTheNest.aspx
Adults visited briefly in the morning and again in the afternoon on this blustery, rainy day.
Good environmental quality is good for bald eagle population
The bald eagle recovery was fueled by the Game Commission's eagle reintroduction program from 1983-89. Conditions were right for the project because population limitations including the harmful effects of pesticides on eagle reproduction, poor stream water quality, the lack of trees along many streams, and, in some cases, direct persecution had subsided by that time. The success of bald eagles in Pennsylvania is directly related to improvements in environmental quality; eagles are dependent on good water and riparian forest quality and subsequent fish availability. The bald eagle's recovery is a victory for the Endangered Species Act and much more. Watch this 22-minute documentary of the Game Commission's reintroduction efforts.
Adults visited the nest briefly at 7a, 7:30, 7:45, 8:45, and 10:30 with food (possibly a fish). Then hung out for about an hour between 1 and 2p and stopped briefly at 3:30 and 5p.
What's a brood patch?
Definition per Merriam-Webster: a featherless, fluid-filled area on the abdomen or breast of birds that is filled with surface blood vessels which are used to apply heat to the eggs during incubation. Both female and male eagles incubate eggs in their nest, though the female does the bulk of it. Both will have a brood patch, though the female's will be more substantial. Let us know if you see one!
The time-lapse video indicates the unfamiliar visitor spent quite a bit of time at the nest between 3:15a and 8:30a. Resident birds were spotted at the nest around 8:35a; 9:30-10:15; 11-11:30; 1:00p; 1:30-2:30; 4:55; and between 5:30 and 7:15 in the evening.
Floaters and Breeding Vacancies
Quick recap, a strange adult appeared at the nest yesterday and this morning (2/4 and 2/5), and spent quite a bit of time there. Some interactions with what appeared to be the resident birds seemed subordinate while others seemed aggressive. One of our biologists describes this as a "floater" looking for a breeding vacancy. When one of a pair is lost, a floater can quickly replace them. Both resident birds were back in the nest together around 10a.
Per the time-lapse: brief visits at 9:09a and 5:30p. A stranger spend quite a bit of time at the nest between 11:20a and 1:40p, and again between 2 and 2:30p.
No Longer Endangered
The bald eagle was removed from the federal Endangered Species list in 2007. Its Pennsylvania status was changed to Protected in January 2014 based on data from 2008 to 2013. Criteria for removing the bald eagle from the state's threatened species list were laid out in the Game Commission's bald eagle management plan. The plan called for delisting eagles if four criteria were met for five consecutive years. There had to be at least 150 active nests statewide, successful pairs in at least 40 counties, at least a 60 percent success rate for known nests, and productivity of at least 1.2 eaglets fledged per successful nest. In 2008 through 2013 Pennsylvania's bald eagles exceeded all of these criteria with 171 to 274 known nests, in 46 to 58 counties, with success rates of 74 to 92 percent for known nests, and productivity of 1.3 to 1.8 eaglets fledged per successful nest. Learn more.
The angle of the winter sun is causing some spectacular colors at the nest at sunrise and sunset. Time-lapse view shows adults visited the nest several times. The longest visits lasted about an hour each between 9:30-10:30 and 1:15-2:15. Shorter visits took place at 6:15a, 7:15, 8:30, 8:55, 12:15, 4:20, 4:55, and 5:30.
Factors affecting nest success
Factors affecting nest success are many. Bald eagle nests and young eagles are easily disturbed and nest failure can occur when people get too close to an active nesting area. Adults might abandon a nest site altogether or leave eggs or hatchlings exposed to sun, cold temperatures, severe weather and predators. Also, when growing eaglets are disturbed before their first flight, they may fledge prematurely which makes them vulnerable to terrestrial predators and inclement weather. Review this Bald Eagle Nest Etiquette.
Adults visited the nest between 6:50-7:00; 10:50-11:10; 1:35-2:30; 4:15-5:20; and a quick stop around 5:30. Some sort of bird was brought to the nest as a food item, today.
How big are they?
Adult bald eagles are 30 to 40 inches in length and weigh 8 to 14 pounds. Their wingspans are 6 to 8 feet, and they stand about 2 feet tall. As with other birds of prey, the female is typically larger than the male. Learn more in Wildlife Note on eagles and osprey.
Adults continue to frequent the nest, bringing new nest materials like sticks for the bulk of the nest and softer grasses for the nest bowl. Visits occurred during these time frames: 7:30-8, 9:50-10:15, 11:30-11:45, 12:20-1:30, and 2:50-3:30.
Adults visited between 7-7:15, 8-8:30, 9-11:15, and 12-1:30.
In reviewing the time-lapse footage from yesterday, there was a songbird that sheltered in the nest Sunday night.
Adults visited on and off between 7:45 and 9:45a, for a brief visit around 12:45p, and lastly between 3:30 and 5:30p.
Adults visited the nest between 8:50-9:55a; and again between 10 and 11a.
Adults visited the nest on and off between 8 and 9:45a; at 11:45; and when the juvenile bird stopped by between 1:15-2p.
Changes in Plumage
A bird stopped by earlier today that had dark markings on its whitish head and tail, along with light markings on its dark back. It was likely a younger bird; perhaps an offspring of the nest. The mature eagle's head is covered with gleaming white feathers. Its body is dark brown, its tail white. Immatures are brown, mottled with white on their wings and body. Full adult plumage is attained in the fifth year. Both adults and immature bald eagles have yellow bills and feet, and their legs are feathered halfway down. Read more in the Eagle Wildlife Note. It appeared that the resident birds were relatively tolerant of the visitor.
Adults seems to be hanging out at the nest more often these days. Today: between 8:45 and 9:45; 10:45-11:45; 1:30-3:30; and 5-5:30.
A bald eagle's call is a rapid, harsh cackle, kweek-kik-ik-ik-ik-ik, or a lower kak-kokkak.
The Cornell Lab explains the difference between a bird song and bird call: Why are some bird sounds referred to as songs and others as calls? Typically a song is defined as a relatively structured vocalization produced while attracting a mate or defending a territory. Calls tend to be shorter, less rhythmic sounds used to communicate a nearby threat or an individual’s location. Each species and individual has a variety of songs and calls used in different contexts that together make up its repertoire. https://academy.allaboutbirds.org/birdsong/
Adults at the nest this morning and again throughout the afternoon.
How long does it take to make an egg?
Sperm can be stored in the female eagle's oviduct for long periods. Bald eagles in Pennsylvania typically lay eggs between mid-February and March. Average clutch size is two eggs, which are laid at least a day apart. The Cornell Lab states, "When an ovum is released into the oviduct and fertilized, it is just a protein-packed yolk. The albumen—the gelatinous egg white—is added next. The blobby mass then gets plumped up with water and encased in soft, stretchy membrane layers. The first globs of the calcium carbonate shell are then deposited on the exterior, with the mineral squirting from special cells lining the shell gland (uterus). Pigmentation, if any, comes next, with an overall protein coating added before the egg is laid. It takes about 24 hours to build a single egg." Learn more: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/news/the-beauty-and-biology-of-egg-color/
Adults seen visiting the nest in the mornings and late afternoons.
Strong winds continue this morning. One adult visited the nest around 11a. and appeared to eat a fish. Two adults continued to drop by throughout the day and stopped by in the evening, after the winds settled down, to eat what may have been a chicken.
Very windy out there today. Two adults visited on several occasions between 7a. and 4:30p.
Adults seen at the nest for brief visits throughout the day.
The exact reasons for the bald eagle’s spectacular acrobatic “cartwheel flight” remains unclear. Studies have identified the behaviors as one of many of courtship behaviors. Other behaviors include vocalizations and additional flight maneuvers such as the “chase display”, in which paired individuals will pursue each other, occasionally lock talons, roll, and dive; and so-called “roller-coaster flight”, in which eagle will fly to great altitude, fold wings, and dive directly to earth, swooping back up at the last instance to avoid collision with the ground (Stalmaster 1987 – The Bald Eagle). These incredible behaviors are likely strategies for mate selection and pair bonding. It is worth noting that eagles may displays these behaviors during the nonbreeding season antagonistically, but more often the flights are a sign of the forthcoming nesting season.
Two adults seen at the nest throughout the day before the rain set in.
A Full Crop
The crop is used to store food. After a good meal, you may be able to see a bulge in the chest of the bird, signifying its full crop. We "flew" over to The Cornell Lab to learn a little more. https://academy.allaboutbirds.org/features/birdanatomy/
Power was out for a short bit this morning; we had some heavy wind over the weekend. Two adults have been seen at the nest for long visits in the morning and again in the afternoon.
Two eagles in flight. Dave C. caught this scene on the Middle Creek Snow Goose cam.
Bald eagles are known for their spectacular courtship, including acrobatic flight displays. The "cartwheel display" is perhaps the best known. In this courtship act, the pair flies to great altitude, lock their talons in flight, and tumble in cartwheels back toward the earth, breaking off their hold at last moment before colliding with the ground. These flight displays often occur in winter, giving support to the idea that many pairs remain bonded through the year. In Pennsylvania, some pairs seem to occupy the same areas all year long, while others leave their nesting area when ice forms on the water and decreases their ability to find fish. The snow goose migration is coming up.
Adults were seen bringing in new nest material shortly after 9a. and again between noon and 3p.
Also, a Cooper's hawk was spotted again at the nest. Watch the clip.
The rattling call of a kingfisher has been heard a few times today, too.
No sightings on this snowy day.
Bald eagles typically reuse a nest and may continue to build at more than one nest at a time. Sometimes a nest gets so large that it falls; having a backup comes in handy at that point. The nest has a very limited purpose, much different than a human home. It isn't the place bald eagles loaf or spend the night unless there are eggs or young. If there are eggs, they typically won't be left unattended very long and will be incubated overnight.
Pennsylvania's winter bald eagles: southern & northern
Although we tend to focus on the nesting population of bald eagles, many eagles migrate through the state or spend the winter here. The migration population can be divided into two parts: eagles that nest in the southern United States that migrate north after nesting season in winter to spend time in the northern part of their range, including Pennsylvania; and northern eagles that migrate from Canada and northern states through Pennsylvania to the south and return north each spring to their nesting grounds. Learn more.
Adults spotted bringing nesting material to the nest and visiting off and on throughout the morning.
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) —Starlings often stop by when the eagles are away. Starlings eat almost equal amounts of animal and plant food, including beetles, grasshoppers, ants, flies, caterpillars (gypsy moth and tent caterpillars are frequent prey), earthworms, grains, cherries and mulberries. When foraging on lawns in winter, starlings are usually gaping, probing their bills into the soil and prying apart grass roots to uncover beetle larvae. Starlings begin defending nest cavities in late winter, pre-empting them before native cavity-nesters start claiming territories. Starlings nest in woodpecker holes, crevices in trees and buildings, and bird houses. Learn more in this Wildlife Note.
The recovery of the bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) has been one of the great wildlife conservation stories in the history of both the state and the nation. Pennsylvania's nesting bald eagle population has increased steadily and dramatically in recent years. As recently as 1980, the state's known nesting population numbered only three pairs. In 1990, there were eight active nests, 48 in 2000, and by 2006 the number cleared 100 for the first time since DDT decimated Pennsylvania's nesting bald eagle population in the 1950s and '60s. The increases continued into 2008 when the state's nesting eagles numbered more than 150 pairs, more than 200 pairs in 2011, and more than 270 pairs in 2013. The exponential increase in Pennsylvania's nesting bald eagle population is part of a regional increase and similar increases are taking place in Chesapeake Bay and New York populations. Learn more about their status in Pennsylvania.
What does a bald eagle sound like?
Bald eagle calls, courtesy of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Bald_Eagle/sounds.
Adults stopped by briefly around 7a and again around 9:30a, 3:30p, and 4:45p.
Identifying individual birds - A word of caution.
As a rule, female birds of prey tend to be larger than their male counterparts. That being said, there is overlap and in some pairs, a male may be larger than the female. When it comes to markings on feathers and beaks, both change over time. Keratin makes up bird feathers and bills. As the outer keratin wears down, birds molt new keratin layers. This means that flaking on the bill or an oddly colored feather will eventually be replaced.
Adults visited the nest several times between 7a and noon.
Adults hung around the nest between noon and 3p, then stopped by briefly around 5p.
Dave C. caught this screen shot this morning.
Cooper’s hawk (Accipiter cooperii) — Length, 14 to 20 inches; wingspread, 27 to 36 inches; weight, 10 to 20 ounces (slightly smaller than a crow). Adults look like large sharp-shinned hawks — red eyes, blue-gray back and a rusty breast, except the Cooper’s has a rounded tail and the sharp-shinned hawk has a square-tipped tail. Named in 1828 after William Cooper, a New York naturalist, Cooper’s hawks prey mainly on birds the size of robins and jays. While hunting, they prefer to perch and wait for prey. Favored habitat is woodland. Cooper’s hawks breed throughout most of the eastern United States; they nest in trees 20 to 60 feet up. Eggs: 4 to 5, white, incubated by both sexes but mainly by the female for about one month. Woods where Cooper’s hawks nest may remain heavily populated with songbirds, as these hawks hunt away from their nest area. Call is similar to that of the sharp-shinned. Learn more in our Raptors Wildlife Note.
20 minutes to learn about the reintroduction of bald eagles in Pennsylvania
In the not so distant past, direct persecution and environmental contaminants drove eagle populations to catastrophically low levels. Protection at both state and federal levels, tremendous conservation efforts and improved waterway quality enabled them to rebound. In 1983, there were a mere three nests left in Pennsylvania. With the help of the Canadian government, the Pennsylvania Game Commission, and several other states reintroduced bald eagle chicks from Canada back to the Northeast United States. Today, Pennsylvania boasts more than 300 nests. This 22-minute documentary tells the story of that success. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-4DK0sCiMd8
Two adults coming and going between 7:15-9:00a and again between 10:40-11:30a.
Both adults at the nest this morning between 11a and 1p.
Both adults at the nest 12:45p.
Unique to birds and their dinosaur ancestors, feathers have evolved into impressive biological structures that come in a surprising diversity of colors and forms. The interlocking Velcro-like structure on many bird feathers creates the smooth, flexible, and resilient surface that supports flight and sheds water. - Cornell Lab of Ornithology: https://academy.allaboutbirds.org/feathers-article/
Both adults working on the nest on this nice morning, around 11a. and again at 1:30p.
Bald is a misnomer
The bald eagle's scientific name, Haliaeetus leucocephalus, means "white-headed sea eagle." The word "bald" is a misnomer. The mature eagle's head is covered with gleaming white feathers. Its body is dark brown, its tail white. Immatures are brown, mottled with white on their wings and body.
Both adults at the nest 9:15a.
Eagles and Osprey
Large, striking and charismatic birds of prey, the bald eagle, golden eagle and osprey embody power and majesty. All regularly occur in Pennsylvania, but only the bald eagle and osprey nest here. The golden eagle migrates through the state on a pathway connecting its breeding and wintering territories.
Both adults spotted at the nest shortly after 10a.
How big is an eagle nest?
A new nest is about 5 feet wide and 2 feet high, with an inside depression 4 to 5 inches deep and 20 inches in diameter. Often a pair returns to the same nest year after year, repairing damage and adding a new layer of sticks, branches and cornstalks, plus a lining of grass, moss, twigs and weeds. Enlarged annually, some nests grow so big and heavy that they break the branches or tree supporting them. Learn more in this Wildlife Note.
Both adults spotted at the nest around noon.
When does a bald eagle's head turn white?
The mature eagle's head is covered with gleaming white feathers. Its body is dark brown, its tail white. Immatures are brown, mottled with white on their wings and body. Full adult plumage is attained by the fifth year. Both adults and immature bald eagles have yellow bills and feet, and their legs are feathered halfway down. Learn more in this Wildlife Note.
Where is this nest?
In an effort to protect the privacy of the birds and the landowners who are graciously allowing us this viewing opportunity, we will not be disclosing information about the nest location and implore viewers to do the same. Thank you all for joining us to learn about Pennsylvania bald eagles.
The livestream opened shortly after noon on December 18, 2019 and the two adults made their debut around 2p that afternoon. Thanks for tuning in!
Starlings often stop by the nest when the eagles are away. Here is some Startling Starling information. From 100 birds released in the 1890s in New York City’s Central Park have descended more than 200 million starlings populating North America today. Starlings feed in flocks and roost together at night. In late summer and fall, their roosts may contain thousands of birds. Some individuals shift southward for the winter, while others remain in the Northeast; many roost in cities, where buildings give off heat, and then fly out into the surrounding agricultural land to feed during the day. Learn more in our Wildlife Note.