I’m not editing anything here…just came home for dinner and decided to post a quick remembrance of the visit to the Bow River after teaching today.
I thought I was looking at another flock/murmuration? of European Starlings, but what I was looking at was a tree full of Bohemian Waxwings. I was really pleased because apart from a couple of sightings at the pond, this one is uncommon for me to observe. The grey of late afternoon made everything visually flat, a most difficult atmosphere for photography, but it certainly didn’t stop the drama of absolutely everything at the river. It makes me so happy to see that there is a huge melt going on right now and there are some habitats beginning to reveal themselves.
I’ve seen so many stunningly unbelievable photographs published by birder/photographer friends of Bohemian Waxwings that I am a bit embarrassed to post my very best. And of course this little guy had to show me his very best side, didn’t he?
I’ve captured just a very few of the Waxwings that hung out with me…
Once again, I enjoyed the sound of the male pheasants gobbling from above the ridge and saw them strutting about, their brilliant red and green, signature colour, on the otherwise grey-gold hill.
There were the Crows caw cawing…the Robins perching…the Northern Flickers dancing and calling…and the Common Golden Eye males doing their hilarious back bends to impress the females who looked both bored and disinterested.
But…the most amazing thing I saw today was first, to see all of the gulls lift off the snow pack in unison, at the river’s edge. Gazing across the river, I surmised that one of the Bald Eagles was fishing and so I looked across…not above. Oh my goodness! There, flying directly above my head and only meters away, was one of the Juveniles, on a serious bird hunt! I don’t know how to pan or how to focus on a moving target, so none of it came out as a well-told visual narrative. I guess that’s why I’m writing. I could cry right now, it was so bloody amazing!
First…a loud cacophony of gull sounds and whoosh…they lifted up. This is all that my camera picked up…but, I will remember.
The juvenile Bald Eagle hovered above me…struck downward…up again…down. Moments later, he left me, crossed the river and perched in a tree. This was such a distance away, by this point, that I can hardly do the experience any justice at all. But…there is the telling…
I decided to stand there and watch. By this time, another bird watcher had joined me on the bridge. I asked him if he had witnessed what I just did and he acknowledged the magic. I thought that, for certain, this juvenile was looking to eat and that we should be prepared for the next spectacle…instead, something more amazing happened.
From seemingly nowhere, this guy arrived.
He’s been protective of the nest and a very supportive partner. Mrs. has been sitting on eggs through the past ten or so days, enduring horrible winter temperatures and lots of snow. The two adult Bald Eagles have been working together beautifully and I’ve watched the delivery of several lovely big fish.
There was no way he was going to let an intruder close in on the nest or his territory! (even if that intruder is his own)
He swooped out and over the river and aggressively bolted toward the juvenile, who then also lifted off, heading north on the river. The adult, angry, bolted at its rear, wings on both, flailing this way and that…it was beyond exquisite! Those of us who saw this all unfold were in awe and squealing in delight.
There is a very good chance that this two year old is the adults’ own progeny. Once raised, I believe the adults do not accept their youngsters back. It is brutal, but a fact of nature. There are the next babes to protect and raise up. This young fellow is on his own.
- A young bird’s first flight typically is not very far, and fledglings are reluctant fliers. Landing is a skill that takes practice. They may stay at their first perch for a few days before flying again or even spend time on the ground where they’re vulnerable to predators.
- Adults will continue to bring food to the young bird outside the nest as long as they know where the fledgling is.
- Adult birds are tied to their fledglings, not to the nest, so they will tend to their young wherever they are after fledging.
- A parent eagle’s job doesn’t end at fledging, however, and if the post-fledging care is included in the nesting cycle the length becomes closer to 5.5 or 6 months. Fledglings may continue to rely on their parents for food and other care for 4-6 weeks post fledging.
- In most cases, parents continue to deliver fish and other prey to the young birds until they learn to forage on their own, which occurs between four and 10 weeks after leaving the nest. This stage is a very vocal time for the eagles as the adults and young call frequently to locate each other for feeding and security.
- In more remote nesting areas the adults would stop bringing food into the nest for the returning young birds. Instead they would make sure the young birds would see them feeding so they would come to take the food and the parents would simply back off.
- Adult parents will continue to provide food for some time after fledging, while the newly flighted birds hone not only their hunting skills, but their flying skills. On average, it takes about 4-12 weeks for young eagles to start hunting successfully. Specialized hunting skills probably take years to develop.
- Fortunately, their parents fed them well in the nest, so most fledgling eagles have some reserves when they fledge.
- The eagles usually remain near the nest area through much of summer, however, 7 to 8 weeks after fledging, they may start to move further distances.
- Once the young eagles are able to find food on their own (usually in early fall), the parents go their separate ways and remain solitary until the following breeding season.
- If the eagles of the area migrate, they may start migrating. If the eagles do not migrate, they may just move to an area that has more food.
- Juvenile eagles travel for the first four years of their lives. They wander great distances in search of food. During the first year of life, eagle mortality rate can be more than 50%. One year out of the nest their survival rate is much higher.
There was magic to be found at the river today.