The buzz circulated yesterday afternoon as Ginny and I discovered the nest within a few hours of each other. We have been watching this pair of eagles since December, when we noticed that they were spending a lot of time over the impoundment. In the mornings, the pair would be atop an old osprey platform, and as the sun warmed the water, they would fly off. We assumed they were just roosting, because the platform is much smaller than we expected eagles could nest on. But we did see them gathering sticks, and adding them to the platform.
On December 30, the pair spent a long time in the impoundment, looking at the ducks and fish, but not hunting. Perhaps they had other things on their minds, because they waited until dusk, and chose a small hummock in the impoundment for mating. As the pile of sticks on the platform grew, we could see the eagles on the platform in the early morning and at night, and then this weekend it looked like there was only one. “What had happened to the other?”, we wondered. Our telescope is not powerful enough to see that what looked like a bump on a stick was actually the head of one eagle, who appears to be sitting on eggs. As I drove by yesterday, I noticed that she was still there, hunkered down in the nest.
I immediately called Lori, who checked with her contacts at DNR about the likelihood of eagles raising a successful brood atop an osprey platform. We had lots of questions… will cart traffic disturb the nest? Would the pair return year after year and grow the nest to those two-ton massive structures you read about? What if the ospreys come back?
They thought that the pair is either an experienced pair whose nest was somehow destroyed, and she needs a place to lay eggs right now, OR that this is a starter home for a new set of parents, and this represents their first nest attempt. (Because of the fact that this pair seems to have been investigating this site since just after Thanksgiving, I am inclined to think this is the starter home situation.) In either case, it is not particularly likely that they will nest here for years, because the platform probably won’t support that sort of enormous nest. If ospreys return to that platform, they may throw eaglets out of the nest. (Does anyone remember if a pair nested there last summer?)
According to Nests, Eggs, and Nestlings of North American Birds, the eagles will continue to add leafy twigs throughout the nesting period, and the outside diameter of the nest may get to be six feet across- or larger. They usually lay two eggs over several days, and the older sibling may starve or kill the second, depending on available resources. The eggs hatch 35 to 46 days after being laid, and the babies are born covered in downy gray feathers.
The Norfolk Botanical garden has a webcam on an eagle’s nest: you can see it here. In Oklahoma, here is a nest with babies that have hatched already. We can’t wait for this to unfold and watch what happens. Try not to disturb the eagles if you spot them from the road.