July 7 notes: TWO eaglets - no rescues needed!
Take a deep breath, relax, and enjoy continued viewing on the eagle cam'. Both fledgling eaglets are DEFINITELY still present and closely guarded by both parents. After the aerial survey flight was cancelled today, the boss (Barb = my wife!) convinced me that we should carefully patrol the nest vicinity to make sure all is well. By reading your blogs, it's clear that many were tormented by the unknown fate of both eaglets after fledging on July 4. (There's anxiety in our household as well!)
Please, never visit an eagle nest where fledglings are freshly on-the-wing unless you are advised by a biologist and know how to handle an eagle in the event of a mishap! We spend most of our time moving cautiously and scanning the vicinity while one eaglet is above in the nest. We do not want to excite it into flight since many fledglings prefer to prolong their homecoming and delay their next flight as long as possible after first returning to the nest. We do not want to scare our missing eaglet -- whether perched in a tree, standing by the shore, or injured and hiding in understory vegetation. Most of all, we do not want to trigger adults into circling flights and vocalizations protesting our presence because this will certainly alarm the entire eagle family.
We inspect the area beneath the nest: relieved not to see a dead or injured eaglet. The resident landowner shows us an area of matted grass where something large bedded on the ground for a while, but we all remain uncertain. I patrol the shoreline bluff, and Barb walks along the water's edge. At 11 am EDT, one adult flies quietly from a lofty pine 100 yards west. Fortunately, there are no aggressive displays or cries of displeasure. After we pass this perch, Barb briefly glimpses a dark eagle follow the same flight path: a smooth glide with only a few wingbeats out of sight and around the bend of the shore at least 250 yards away. Was that really the missing eaglet? Is a 2-second observation out of the corner of your eye adequate reassurance? She's not satisfied ... I assume that eagle cam' viewers won't be content either!
We wait and watch. The perched adult frequently looks down over its shoulder: the watchful eye of a parent. There's no way to see a nearby eaglet from our vantage point, but that's not surprising. Fledglings have more trouble landing than flying! It may be on a lower limb than the adult's high, conspicuous perch. We stay back and are eventually rewarded with several "eaglet squeals" originating from the trees well east of the nest. These yelps for attention (or food) are typical of young eagles. We retreat and compare notes with the landowners. The eagle cam' is hard wired to their TV, and they report with confidence that the eaglet in the nest has been stationary and silent throughout our search. These are all the clues we can hope to gain today: the third day after fledging when the family group is adjusting to life out of the nest. It is best to stay back and let eaglets develop life skills from experienced adults. There is no way our interventions can improve the situation.
Part of this process may evolve outside the view of the eagle cam' but I would be shocked if you do not see "Big" and "Little" at the nest during the next 2 months! Their use of the nest will diminish gradually. If they really don't get along that well, they may not spend much time there together. (If we can do this next year, we will band the birds to aid identification, but looking at behavioral tendencies is a good strategy to distinguish them. However, if one eaglet was displacing the other from a preferred perch, habits may change when they have solitary time in the nest.) Adults will purposefully minimize time in the nest so as to encourage development of the eaglets. Sometime in September or October, family ties end. The eaglets disperse. One Maine eaglet appeared as far away as South Carolina by November of its first year!
The landowners (gracious hosts of the eagle cam') welcomed our visit, shared insights, and provided delicious lobster salad sandwiches after our mission was complete. They have experienced 14 consecutive years of successful nesting so they have perfected the art of co-exisitance with nesting eagles. Apropriate stewardship is key to safeguarding the remarkable recovery of bald eagles. After >28 years on the Endangered / Threatened Species list in northern states (>37 years in the southern U.S.), future delisting of bald eagles will lessen some regulatory protection and may result in less frequent survey monitoring. Owners and neighbors of nesting eagles can play important roles. We are eager to assist. Let's hope the other 402 pairs of bald eagles nesting in Maine this year have as much luck in coexisting with humans as these birds!
Management comments: National guidelines have been drafted to promote a lasting recovery of bald eagles. In Maine, our annual population monitoring and regulatory protection of nests will continue until the Threatened Species status is removed by the legislature. Our agency will only recommend state delisting after sucessfully implementing a habitat safety net which includes a mix of land conservation and stewardship roles of private landowners. Agencies will adjust management strategies after bald eagles are delisted. Your support is always welcome. -- Charlie Todd, Maine Dept. of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife