The eaglets have been in the nest eight weeks now, and in the final phase of their preparations for learning to fly and leaving the nest. As you can see on the Eagle Cam, they are almost as big as their dad now, and getting increasingly active.
We checked in with Larissa Smith, biologist for Conserve Wildlife Foundation, to get her thoughts on what to expect next. Larissa is in charge of several projects, from leading the effort to monitor dozens of Bald Eagle nests in New Jersey to running CWFs citizen-science project to learn more about the Duke Farms eaglets diet.
What should viewers look for as the eaglets enter the home stretch.
I just watched a feeding session and the adult is still feeding the chicks, though they are now getting impatient and will lean in and peck at the prey and any food that is left in the nest.
Over the next few weeks theyll start feeding themselves. Ive had several cam viewers worried that the adults arent in the nest as much. As the chicks get older the nest gets crowded and the adults will spend less time in the nest. But one is most likely close by out of view of the camera. The gray downy feathers that are still visible on their backs and bellies will change over to dark feathers over the next few weeks.
They are beginning to flap their wings more and more. Is it to develop their muscles?
Yes, they are strengthening their wing muscles by exercising. As they get closer to fledging, you can see that theyll flap so much theyll be hovering a bit above the nest.
They are also starting to leave the nest and go out on branches. Why?
The nest isnt all that big for two full-sized chicks (restless teenagers), so branching gives them something to do besides sit in the nest all day. Plus, by going out on the branches they learning to balance and perch all skills they will need when they leave the nest.
Will their diet change as they get ready to fledge, or is that a function of food availability?
Theyll eat whatever the parents bring to the nest and thats what is available.
Haven't seen as many turtle shells in the nest this year. Why?
My first thought is that it has been a cooler spring. Turtles come out on warm sunny days to bask and perhaps that is when its easiest for the eagles to catch them.
Whats next, after they have mastered the art of branching?
Then the next step is their first flight. Eaglets usually take their first flight around 10-12 weeks of age, though some eagle nest observers have reported chicks staying in the nest much longer than that. I guess they figure if they're getting fed, why not enjoy the easy life a bit longer.
THURSDAY: A new on-line Bald Eagle e-book -- by a first-grader!
Got a question or suggestion? E-mail Jim at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jim Wright writes The Bird Watcher columnist for The Record. He is the author of four coffee-table books about wild places, and a deputy marsh warden of the Celery Farm Natural Area in Allendale, N.J.