Hanover Eagle Blog #3 - 2021

January 18, 2021
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EAGLE COURTSHIP

Written by Zoey Greenberg • In Partnership with Comcast Business and Pennsylvania Game Commission • Powered by HDOnTap 

 

This week we saw exciting activity at the nest, including bole-shaping, straw deliveries, tussles over sticks, and even a dinner date! This heightened homebody-ness is natural, and indicates that the breeding season is moving along for this pair of experienced nesters. 

 

This phase can still be considered the nest-maintenance, pair bonding, and copulation phase of breeding season, exemplified by how much attention the eagles have been giving to the nest, and to each other. Bald eagles that remain in the same area year-round are thought to maintain their pair-bonds, staying close together and near their nest if conditions permit. This may be the case for the Hanover eagles, especially in years when they can find food. This is crucial for the female, since her body condition directly affects the viability of the eggs. 

 

 

Bald eagles are considered monogamous, meaning they often keep the same mate unless one perishes. In Pennsylvania, bald eagle wooing tactics commence as early as December or January, and include a variety of behaviors such as perching side-by-side, rubbing beaks, mutual preening (called allopreening), and aerial displays such as the jaw-dropping cartwheeling shown below. 

 


Sometimes these tussles involve three individuals until one is ruled out of the game, taking the term “speed-dating” to a whole new level. 
Photos by Harry Eggens - Harry Eggens Photography

 

Cartwheeling is one of several “sky dances” performed by bald eagles during courtship, and is difficult to witness. Some eagle researchers spend their entire career looking for this behavior, and only catch it a handful of times. If you see it, you are one of the lucky few. I am from the Pacific Northwest, where it’s not uncommon to see an eagle perched on every other tree, and yet I have never seen a cartwheel.   

 


Photos by Harry Eggens - Harry Eggens Photography 

 

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, vocalizing, and then peel off at the last moment just in time to avoid ground collision. Sometimes, it doesn’t end well. Understandably, eagles that pull this maneuver off earn points both as Casanovas and rulers of their domain. 

 

Watch this Youtube video of cartwheel, 0:35 seconds, with educational text. Wildhood Books. 

 

At this point in their relationship, the Hanover eagles likely put more energy into renewing their bond through the subtle activities we’ve seen this week, such as sharing meals and negotiating stick placement. Some of us can relate – the longer you’re with someone, the less necessary it is to hurl yourself in a dangerous freefall towards solid ground just to keep them interested. 

 

Although we speculate that the Hanover male and female share more than just a tolerance for each other, we will never truly know what their relational dynamics are like. They are wild animals with wild secrets. Even so, we can learn from them. 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 inadequate sticks. 

 

Photos for this blog were generously contributed by Harry Eggens. View more of his beautiful work here, at: www.hewaph.com. We thank him for his stunning photographs and enthusiasm for the avian world! 

 

Sources

Gross, Doug (2013, January 1). Breeding Season Begins in Winter. Pennsylvania Ebird. 

https://ebird.org/pa/news/breeding-season-begins-in-winter 

Raptor Ecology Specialist - Zoey Greenberg 

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