Hanover Bald Eagle Blog #1 - 2020

February 14, 2020
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Written by Zoey Greenberg • In Partnership with Comcast Business • Powered by HDOnTap 

Here we are in that familiar state of excitement now that the first egg has been laid! Liberty and Freedom have been hard at work padding their nest and modifying their Feng Shui in preparation for this year’s offspring. Although bald eagles exhibit site fidelity - returning to the same site in consecutive years - they must reassess key criteria: Is the nest strong enough to support the nestlings? Is it sheltered from the elements? Protected from access by ground-dwelling predators? Easy to fly into? Good visibility? Given this complex assessment, new parents understandably make mistakes which is why young birds commonly practice building nests before they are ready to breed. Liberty and Freedom however, have the process down.

This year’s Hanover nest materials appear similar to those used last season, being composed primarily of straw, grass, and other adequately cushioning substances that will provide warmth and protection for the young. The base layer of interwoven sticks remains, providing structural integrity necessary for an entire family of large birds (together Liberty and Freedom weigh at least 20 pounds).

These soon-to-be parents have been working in close quarters, demonstrating impressive cohabitation and reminding us that no matter how much “space” someone takes up at home, maintaining relational harmony pays off. Even when Freedom brings in the wrong size stick for Liberty’s liking, they work it out.

Bald eagles are deemed “monogamous.” Typically when it comes to birds, this term refers to a seasonal commitment rather than lifetime fidelity. Freedom and Liberty however, seem serious, and one is compelled to wonder how they chose one another. Bald eagle courtship takes place prior to the breeding season and given that bald eagles are one of the earliest nesting birds in Pennsylvania, their wooing tactics can commence as early as January. Courtship includes nest-building, perching, preening, and aerial displays. There are several types of “sky dances” performed by bald eagles in the pre-breeding season, the most famous of which is cartwheeling. This behavior, depicted in the following photos, is a stunning interaction to witness.

Sometimes these tussles involve three individuals as shown here, until one is ruled out of the game.

Photo by Harry Eggens - www.hewaph.com

Photo by Harry Eggens - www.hewaph.com

Photo by Harry Eggens - www.hewaph.com

Biologists theorize that cartwheeling provides a way for eagles to assess the health and stamina of prospective mates, and to assert dominance over a territory. When eagles interlock talons during these displays, they often plummet towards the ground at high speeds, peeling off at the last moment in time to void ground collision. Sometimes, collision occurs anyway. Understandably, eagles that pull this maneuver off earn points both as Casanovas and rulers of their domain.

At this point in their relationship, Liberty and Freedom likely put more energy into refreshing their pair bond through activities like reciprocal preening and working on the house together, rather than risking their lives in a dangerous cartwheel.

It’s incredible to think that Liberty and Freedom were once strangers. Although we speculate that Liberty and Freedom share more than just a tolerance for each other, we will never truly know what the relational dynamics are like between two wild animals. Therefore, the mystery of pair bonds remains. This Valentine’s Day, let’s take a hint from our feathered friends and do something nice for the people we love, even if they tend to bring home the wrong size sticks.

Photos for this blog were generously contributed by Harry Eggens, www.hewaph.com. We thank him for his stunning photographs and enthusiasm for the avian world! 

 

Raptor Ecology Specialist - Zoey Greenberg 

 

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