Monday, both eagles were on the nest at 5:28 p.m.
Welcome to Duke Farms' 2015 Bald Eagle nesting season. The live streaming video from the Eagle Cam, which has been on-line since the 2008 nesting season, offers an extraordinary window on nature to anyone with Internet access.
People have watched the Duke Farms Eagle Cam more than 9.4 million times. To expand that coverage, I'll be writing a weekly post that goes online at 1 p.m. each Wednesday during nesting season. Now that the pair are incubating at least one egg, lets begin with some basics -- with a caution that previous nesting seasons may not reflect this years outcome. In nature, anything can happen. No one should count their eaglets before they hatch (or fledge). At Duke Farms, a nest was discovered near the Raritan River in the fall of 2004, and a pair of Bald Eagles began using the nest the following spring. With the help of Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey, Duke Farms installed a video camera in a nearby tree in early 2008 and began the streaming video began that March. At 5:29 the male flew and the female remained. In October 2012, Hurricane Sandy destroyed the nest. Two months later the eagles built a new nest in a Sycamore 100 yards away. Duke Farms and CWF moved the video camera to the new nest tree in the fall of 2013. Since 2005, the female has laid between one and three eggs per clutch. Last year, beginning on Feb. 17, the female laid three eggs -- each three days apart and in the afternoon. This year the female has laid one egg so far, either on late on Feb. 16 or early on Feb. 17.
Incubation takes roughly 35 days, with both the female and male sitting on the eggs. The first egg typically hatches first. Last year, all three eggs hatched by April 1. At first, the chicks are helpless and need constant parental attention. After a month or so, the nestlings are able to stand up and feed themselves when the adults bring food. Yesterday (Tuesday) morning, after a snowfall and 15-degree weather, the female was sitting on an egg. Their diet can range from fish to birds to baby white-tailed deer. The young birds stay in the nest for 10 to 12 weeks, until they are large enough and strong enough to leave (fledge). This is typically in late June or early July. The parents still feed them nearby for the next several weeks, until the fledglings can fly and hunt on their own. Along with their Golden Eagle cousins, Bald Eagles are among the largest raptors in North America -- second only to the California Condor. Bald Eagles have a wingspan of seven to eight feet. They weigh between 8 and 14 pounds, with the female approximately 25 percent larger than the male. They are easiest to tell apart when they are in the nest together. Their trademark white head and tail feathers appear when the eagles mature at four or five years old. (Bald comes from the Old English word balde, meaning white.) Not only is the Bald Eagle unique to North America, but it is a highly revered part of Native American culture and the symbol of the United States since 1782. Because of declining numbers, this majestic raptor was placed on the United States endangered species list from 1940 until 2007. This designation gave special protections to the eagles nesting and roosting areas. New Jersey was home to just one Bald Eagle nest as recently as the 1980s. Although the population is rebounding, it is still on the state endangered list.
Next week: All about the nest and quite possibly eggs.
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Jim Wright writes The Bird Watcher columnist for The Record and the Herald-News. He is the author of four coffee-table books about wild places, and the deputy marsh warden of the Celery Farm Natural Area in Allendale, N.J.