On Friday, I watched the remaining young eagle* testing his wings in the wind. Facing into the gusts, he (and I really have no idea of gender, so I am going for the shorter pronoun) spread his wings and made tiny hops, stretching the wings wide. Click here to read about the first time we saw an eaglet take flight. It seems early for flight, so I watched him with amusement. That sense of amusement quickly vanished on Monday when I stared through the scope at an empty nest. I thought maybe he had flown to hunt, and would return any minute, but the post stayed empty all day. In the afternoon, I wandered over to listen and look, but I couldn’t see any evidence of him on the ground. Evening fell, and I was so glad to see a shape on the nest, but when I looked through my scope, there was a lone adult on that platform. Of course, I got thinking about last year’s eagle falling prey to an alligator.
*Sometime during the month of March, one of the eaglets disappeared. The last time I saw two was around the 22nd of March. It’s not uncommon for only one chick to survive. Click here for more information about Bald Eagle life stages and development.
So I was incredibly relieved on Tuesday when Anne S. called to say she had seen the eagle on the ground. She described him as huge (sort of like a penguin!) and she sent me a few photos of him by the side of the road I called the center for Birds of Prey, and they had already been contacted by Robert Fischer about our guy, who had been seen hanging around the road all day. By the time I got there, he was hidden (well hidden) in the brush near the pole. A parent peered skeptically down at me.
We asked the folks at the center what to do, and they felt that there was actually no safer community for an eagle to be on the ground. His parents were likely nearby, and they asked us to watch him to see if he was being fed, and whether he was in any danger. Lori sent out the following information: The young Eagle has fledged the nest! While it is learning to fly it is on the ground and most of the time is in the road. Our concern is someone will not see the Eagle in the road and run it over. Therefore, Lake Timicau road is closed until the eagle learns to fly (usually takes about a week) or it decides to hang out somewhere else. We apologize for any inconvenience and thank you for your support!
I crept in with a big zoom lens and binoculars just so we could be sure he wasn’t injured. It is obvious, watching, that eagles aren’t meant to be on the ground, and it is clear that he is learning to fly, even if he hasn’t mastered it yet. We sent the video off to the Center for further advice.
This saga went on throughout last week. Jim Elliott at the Center for Birds of Prey checked in with us daily. I was initially alarmed to see the eaglet on the ground, lying still as if in a nest. But Jim explained that this was a sign that the bird was fairly relaxed, and would rest like that if he were still in the nest. The most important thing was to be sure that the adults would be comfortable feeding him (so no humans around) and that the eaglet continued to exercise his flight muscles.
The eaglet continued to hang around near the swing, flapping wings and practicing getting up there.
We began to limit our observations to the two families who were in residence along Lake Timicau, and they sent updates daily as they went the long way around to the beach and the ferry so as not to interrupt any possible adults feeding. I could watch from my deck, but I could only see the adults on the pole and in the trees. Finally I saw one eagle on the pole and another fly by with a fish. The one with the fish swooped down toward the swing and landed in the big live oak, while the other one called down to the ground. I could see the eagle tearing off chunks of fish, and seemingly scattering them. This was really good news: both adults were actively tending the eaglet, and he was being fed. Evidence of feeding was left on the ground in front of the swing.
This went on for almost 10 days, and the eaglet moved around within that acre radius; from hiding in the woods, to hopping along the road, to swinging on the swing. And then he seemed to disappear. I went over, and again hid, listening. I thought I heard him call, but I could’t be sure if it was him I was hearing or the parents. We began to hopefully assume he could fly, but were slightly nervous about predators.
On Friday morning, the 24th, we got our answer. Ted was waiting for the school boat, and was startled by the noisy flight of a huge bird. He called me, breathless, to tell me that he was sure he saw the eaglet flying. Another set of contractors called on Friday to report the same thing. And by Sunday, the eaglet had learned enough about flying to make it back up the the original nest on the pole, where there is a wide vantage point over the whole impoundment. His parents were attending him, feeding and re-arranging the sticks in the nest.
The road is open, the spring migrant birds are arriving in droves, and “our baby” has learned to fly. Hopefully his parents will teach him how to hunt quickly, but the flight at least allows him to stop being obvious prey for a bobcat or fox. It wouldn’t be easy, from the looks of those talons, but we’re glad he’s aloft. We’re also glad to be part of a community that will redirect a road to protect a young bird, and a larger community of conservation-minded folks in the Charleston area. If you drive up Lake Timicau Lane, keep an eye out near the swing– he seems to like it as a roosting location. Below photos are from today, April 27th.