2023 Eagle Updates
May 10, 2023
Fishing has been very good in the Potomac River and the six-week-old eaglet at the NCTC is halfway to fledge time in mid-June. The adults are very good providers and protectors of their nest. This morning a sub-adult eagle tried to visit the nest but was chased off. You can view the reactions of the resident pair.
April 26, 2023
At 31 days of age, the eaglet is now the size of a small turkey and growing rapidly. The darker pin feathers are growing fast too. The young bird is well fed with another fish delivery shown in this photo. Please join us on April 26, at 1:00 pm ET for our next "Live from the Eagles Nest" program. We'll learn how wetland habitat benefits wildlife and how the federal "Duck Stamp" program has protected millions of acres of prime habitat. We'll catch up on the latest nest news and answer your eagle questions too!
Photo: Paul Kolnik, Bald Eagles 101
April 10, 2023
Just 15 days after hatching the NCTC eaglet is already the size of small chicken and able to sit upright. Talons and beak are getting bigger each day and the darker areas we see are the beginnings of pin feathers. Note the bulge on the neck. A bird’s “crop” is an area where food is held prior to going into the stomach. A large crop indicates the bird is eating well. See the 5-day old eaglet eating fish in this video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KLADfx35JjY. Video: Deb Stecyk, Bald Eagles 101
Please join us for our next "Live from the Eagles Nest" program, April 13 at 1:00 pm ET on NCTC Livestream. https://livestream.com/nctc We'll catch up on the latest nest news and answer your eagle questions too!
March 26, 2023 - First Hatch for 2023!
The NCTC Eagles had their first egg hatch on March 26 ~ 2:15 pm. After two days of rain, a sunny day welcomed the new hatchling. Here are video highlights of the day. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i_vtR3062Ts. Video: Deb Stecyk, Bald Eagles 101
We are hoping to see the second egg hatch soon – stay tuned! You can choose a closeup or wide-angle nest view at: https://www.outdoorchannel.com/live/eaglecam
March 22, 2023 - Hatch Watch!
The NCTC bald eagle pair have been busy guarding their nest and incubating two eggs. They use their beaks to turn the eggs for even heating. As they settle back on the eggs you’ll see a little “wiggle” as they move their brood patch onto the eggs for maximum warmth. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKVZjH2VtJw
Eggs were laid on Feb. 15 and 18. After 35-38 days of incubation, we hope to see eggs hatching in the next few days – stay tuned!
You can choose a closeup or wide angle nest view at: https://www.outdoorchannel.com/live/eaglecam
March 8, 2023
The NCTC bald eagle pair has been busy guarding their nest and setting on eggs. They use their beaks to turn the eggs about every hour for even heating in the image below. The eggs were laid on Feb. 15 and 18. After 35-38 days of incubation, we hope to see eggs hatching between March 22 - 26. We now have a second nest camera online - you can choose a closeup or wide-angle nest view.
The NCTC bald eagles "branch manager" video has been getting airplay across the country on CBS, CNN, Fox, NBC, Facebook and Twitter. Check it out!
Please join us for our "Live From the Eagles Nest" broadcast, on March 16 at 1:00 pm ET on NCTC Livestream. https://livestream.com/nctc We'll catch up on the latest nest news and answer your eagle questions too!
February 28, 2023
Bald eagles share egg incubation duties and give each other regular breaks. In this video, the male is ready for a break and calls to the female roosting below.
They fly off together above the nest. Look & listen closely - you'll see them soaring above and calling to each other. After a quick flight, the female returns to incubate her two eggs, deep in the nest bowl. Look for her to turn the eggs with her beak, then wiggle a bit to get her brood patch snug against the eggs.
We hope to see eggs hatching after March 22! You can follow the action at: https://www.outdoorchannel.com/live/eaglecam
February 22, 2023
The past week has been a busy one for the NCTC bald eagle pair!
Egg #1 was laid at 3:26 pm on Feb. 15
Egg # 2 was laid at 6:53 pm on Feb. 18
Less than an hour before the second egg was laid another eagle tried to land on the nest but was repelled and chased off. Both eagles remain on alert for nest takeover attempts - usually by breeding age females (4-5 years old) in search of nesting territory. Male and female eagles take turns incubating eggs for 35-38 days before the hatch. Watch for them to turn eggs with their beak about every hour! You'll find the live video link along with photos, videos and commentary here.
2022 Eagle Updates
June 8, 2022
The NCTC bald eagle pair visit their nest through the summer, usually, early morning or evening is the best time to see them on the eagle cam. In early February 2022, a new female took over the nest for almost three weeks before the resident female returned. Because of this territorial conflict, no eggs were laid in 2022. We have seen a number of curious visitors to the nest (when the eagles are not there) Great Blue Herons, Hawks, Vultures and a variety of songbirds have all been seen this spring. During summer, the eagles spend most of their time near the Potomac River. Come fall, they will begin their annual bonding and mating rituals by bringing in sticks to rebuild the nest for a new season!
April 4, 2022
The NCTC bald eagle pair continue to be busy bringing in sticks, dry grass, and mating – all signs that eggs are still possible in this nest. Because of the territorial conflicts in February, egg laying is about six weeks delayed from what we have seen in past years. Join us on the NCTC Livestream Studio, April 7 at 1:00pm ET for the next “Live from the Eagle’s Nest” broadcast. We'll catch up on the latest nest action, look at other nests in the region with eggs or eaglets and answer your eagle questions too.
March 21, 2022
Wings outstretched and cupped the male eagle lands in the nest with a talon full of dry cornstalks. The eagles have been busy bringing in sticks, dry grass, even some Canada goose feathers – all signs that we might see eggs laid soon. It’s the second day of spring and we are about a month delayed from when eggs have been laid in past years.
February 3, 2022
On this video of the NCTC nest tree, our resident bald eagles are protecting the nest from a juvenile eagle that is flying around them. You can hear the eagles vocalize warning calls to the other bird. Thanks to Deb Stecyk at Bald Eagles 101 for capturing this video and their close observations of nesting behaviors.
With the rise in Bald Eagle populations, there is much more competition for nesting sites, territory and mates. Earlier this week a new adult female challenged and fought with the resident female "Bella" as she is known to viewers. We saw Bella on camera with blood on her head feathers, but otherwise seeming to be ok. The next day the new female was seen in the nest mating with the resident male.
Will the new female takeover this nest? We don't know the answer, only time will tell. We do know this behavior is not uncommon prior to and during egg laying time. We have seen these challenges in previous years at this nest and many other nests around the country have seen similar behavior among bald eagles. While unfortunate for some individual birds, in the long run this competition helps keep eagle populations strong.
2021 Eagle Updates
June 17, 2021 - NCTC Eagles Fledge and Return!
The first juvenile bald eagle left the NCTC nest on June 5. The fledge happened exactly eleven weeks after the eaglet hatched on the first day of spring, March 20. The second juvenile fledged on June 8 at 11 weeks and one day since hatching. That egg was laid on Valentine's Day. Since fledging, the adult and juvenile eagles have been seen fishing in the Potomac and both juveniles were back in the nest on June 16. The juveniles will stay with the adults for most of the summer, but by fall they will be on their own. We may see them back at the nest from time to time as they still associate the nest with food.
June 14, 2021 - Good news!
A local farm owner, not far from the nest, called NCTC and reported he has been seeing two juveniles and two adults flying around his farm. He wanted to ensure that the everyone knew that both juvenile eagles are alive and well. They have been flying around with the family. So, maybe we will see them back on the nest cam before too long?
June 5, 2021 - First Fledge of 2021!
This years first juvenile bald eagle left the NCTC nest in the early morning of June 5, as seen in this photo. The fledge happened exactly eleven weeks after the eaglet hatched on the first day of spring, March 20. If you’d like to see the entire fledge, Deb Stecyk captured and posted a YouTube video.
The second juvenile fledged on June 8 at 11 weeks and one day since hatching. The egg was laid on Valentines Day. Paul Kolnik captured this and placed on a YouTube video.
June 2, 2021
At 10 weeks old the NCTC eaglets are nearing fledge time and fish deliveries are the highlight of their days. Bald Eagles typically fledge @ 10-12 weeks of age. They have been doing a lot of wing flapping exercise to develop flight muscles and are now using the two nest perches. The upper perch is about 7 ft. above the nest, on the left. Paul Kolnik posted this on a YouTube video. You can see the eaglet in the upper “attic” perched.
May 18, 2021
At eight weeks of age the NCTC eaglets are nearly full grown and covered in dark feathers. They have started eating on their own but are still at least two weeks away from fledging. Watch for the eaglets to exercise their wing muscles as they continue to grow and hop about the nest.
May 5, 2021
At six weeks old, the eaglets are nearly covered with fast growing feathers and looking much different than in the photo from just one week ago. Watch for the eaglets to exercise wing muscles and stand upright as muscles get stronger.
April 14, 2021
The NCTC eaglets are now 25/23 days old and growing fast! In this photo, the older eaglet watches the female move a nest stick in place while the younger eaglet is fed fish by the male. The eaglets are getting stronger every day and can now sit upright on their large talons. As the eaglets get bigger and begin to move around the nest, the adults may be out of view on the Eagle Cam. As we see in this photo of the nest tree, they often perch just above the nest or in a nearby tree, but they are always guarding their nest.
April 7, 2021
The eaglets are now 18/16 days old and already the size of small chickens. Talons seem to grow larger every day and the dark areas on their bodies are the beginnings of protective feathers. In their third week, eaglets are starting to develop their juvenile feathers, sometimes called pin feathers (shaft is pin shape) or blood feathers (feather growth is supported by a blood supply).
March 31, 2021
The two eaglets at the NCTC nest are now nine and eleven days old and growing fast. They appear healthy and well fed on a study diet of fish.
They are covered in down, but protective feathers will take many weeks to grow. Notice how the female is using her wings to “tent” the eaglets and protect them from spring rain.
2020 Eagle Updates
July 8, 2020
The fledgling eagle at NCTC is 14 weeks old and her flight skills are improving. She fledged on 6/13 and stayed near the nest for most of two weeks. Now she is venturing out, joining the adults at their fishing areas on the Potomac. The adults still bring food to the nest, but less often - we’ll take a look at those videos today.
June 23, 2020
The fledgling eagle is 12 weeks old and experienced a thunderstorm yesterday with heavy fog this morning. She fledged on 6/13 and has been in, or near, the nest much of this week.
The adults are still bringing food and sometimes feeding her - when she allows it. She is now able to drink water and bathe at the river, important new survival capabilities during the hot summer.
June 16, 2020
The eaglet fledged from her NCTC nest on June 13, 2020 at 11 weeks and 1 day of age. Since then, she has been perching near the nest tree and following the adults to the river. She ate a fish brought in by the male this morning and spent the afternoon perched with the female (see photo).
June 10, 2020
The eaglet at the National Conservation Training Center nest is 10 weeks old, doing very well and will likely fledge in the next week or so. Have you been wondering what life is like for a young eagle, after it leaves the nest? Join us on June 10 to find out! FWS Wildlife Biologist Craig Koppie, will be our guest on Facebook Live. Craig has over 40 years of experience working with bald and golden eagles and was instrumental in re-introducing bald eagles back to the eastern U.S. Craig has a wealth of knowledge on eagle behavior and will discuss his adventures climbing nest trees.
June 2, 2020
The NCTC eaglet will soon be 10 weeks old, so fledging could happen anytime in the next two weeks. Lots of wing exercising and hopping up to perch on branches will happen before the fledge. After fledging the need for this huge nest is over. Staying in the nest makes any bird, juvenile or adult, vulnerable to sun, rain, wind, harassment or predation, disease, or tree fall. Sleeping at night or day roosting in the nest is not the safest place for the birds to be. They can find other roosts which are better places for them to rest in safety with some shelter from the elements. The nest site was the seasonal core of their habitat. After fledging, they have miles of river, forest and agricultural land to inhabit for the rest of the season.
May 19, 2020
The NCTC eaglet will be two months old this Friday and is looking more and more like a "real" eagle! In this photo, the male eagle is about to land with prey in its talons. In the next weeks, look for the eaglet to continue exercising her wings. Soon, the eaglet will start "branching" or perching. She may first try the lower perch, then the upper one.
May 12, 2020
At a little over six weeks old, the eaglet is nearly covered with adult feathers and looking much different than just one week ago. Watch for the eaglet to exercise its wing muscles, and be able to stand up for longer amounts of time as muscles get stronger and balance gets better.
May 4, 2020 - First Bites!
The NCTC eaglet is now 39 days old and has always been given small chunks of food by the adults. In the photo below, we see the eaglet’s first attempt to eat some fish on its own. This will be a gradual process – the adults will continue to tear open the prey and start feeding, but they will let the eaglet take over as its beak and neck muscles keep growing stronger.
April 28, 2020
The NCTC eaglet is 32 days old and doing well. The adults are bringing a good variety of food to the nest - mostly fish, along with squirrel, rabbit, goose and duck. It’s been cool and rainy but the eaglet now has thermal down and it's body temperature can self regulate. In these photos you see the eaglet’s protective feathers are now a darker color. It will be mid June before he/she flies from the nest, but as wing feathers develop the eaglet will do more exercising to develop wing muscles. Lots of exercise and nest practice to come.
April 22, 2020
The eaglet is now 26 days old and growing fast. It's talons seem to grow larger every day and the dark areas on it's body are the beginnings of protective feathers. In their third week, eaglets are starting to develop their juvenile feathers, sometimes called pin feathers (shaft is pin shape) or blood feathers (feather growth is supported by a blood supply). Eagles have a pouch on the esophagus, called a “crop” where they store food for later digestion. In this photo, you see the eaglet's full crop extended at the base of the neck.
April 14, 2020
Eagles have a pouch on the esophagus, called a “crop”, where they can store food for later digestion. You can see it extended at the base of the neck, when their small stomach is full. In their third week, eaglets are just beginning to develop their juvenile feathers, sometimes called pin feathers (shaft is pin shape) or blood feathers (feather growth is supported by a blood supply). These are the darker areas we see underneath the grey thermal down.
April 7, 2020
The 11 day old eaglet is already the size of a small chicken and strong enough to sit upright for a brief time. As you see in these photos, eating and sleeping are favorite activities. The adults feed the eaglet every hour, or so. It will be another 3-4 weeks before the eaglet can start eating on its own.
March 31, 2020
The 5 day old eaglet is now big enough to pop his head out of the nest cup at feeding time. The adult eagle will pull off very small chunks of fish and let the eaglet grab them with it’s beak. If the adult happens to pull off a piece too large, he’ll swallow it himself, rather than give it to the eaglet. Young eaglets grow very quickly and by mid June this eaglet should be ready to fly!
March 27, 2020
Today started off nicely, a beautiful spring day and the second egg hatched this morning. Then about noon the two-day old eaglet, surprisingly strong enough to crawl out of the nest cup, got too close to the edge of the nest and fell into a hole between sticks. Unfortunately, this hole was too deep for the eaglet to crawl out and the adult eagles could not help. We checked around the tree trunk, thinking the eaglet might have fallen through but saw nothing on the ground, so we believe the eaglet perished in the nest.
Though not easy to watch, it is a reminder that the NCTC Eagle Cam is a window on wild nature and these things happen every day in the natural world. Over the years of viewing this eagle cam, we’ve had many good times and we’ll continue that this season. We thank The Outdoor Channel, the Friends of the National Conservation Training Center, and the countless supporters and viewers of the NCTC eagle cam for their understanding and support.
March 25, 2020
After 37 days of incubation the first bald eagle egg hatched in the NCTC nest this rainy morning of March 25. After 37 days of incubation the first bald eagle egg hatched in the NCTC nest this rainy morning of March 25. You can see the tiny grey eaglet and the unhatched egg in this photo. We are hoping to see the second egg hatch tonight or tomorrow.
March 18, 2020
The NCTC eagle pair have been diligently brooding their two eggs for 30 days now. In five more days we hope to see hatching! The adults communicate with their shrill calls when it’s time to switch egg setting duty. Watch closely when they get ready to sit on the eggs - you’ll see they close their sharp talons tightly so they do not accidentally puncture an egg. Hatch watch starting March 23!
March 17, 2020
The NCTC eagle pair have been diligently brooding their two eggs for 34 days now. In 1-4 more days we hope to see hatching! The adults communicate with their shrill calls when it’s time to switch egg setting duty. Watch closely when they get ready to sit on the eggs - you’ll see they close their sharp talons tightly so not to accidentally puncture an egg. We are hoping to see the first egg hatch between March 18-20 and the second hatch between March 21-23, 2021.
March 11, 2020
Both adult eagles have a "brood patch" on their breast - a small area without their insulating feathers, that allows body heat to contact the eggs directly. Every hour or so, they turn the eggs with their beak to ensure even heating. As they sit back on the eggs, you'll see them do a little "wiggle" to make sure the brood patch is on the eggs. We are now past the halfway point of the 35 day incubation period and hoping to see hatching the week of March 23! Watch this short video!
March 10, 2020
The bald eagle pair at the National Conservation Training Center have endured tough weather conditions since laying their eggs on February 11 and 14, 2021.
They must incubate their eggs day and night for 35-38 days, regardless of the weather. March has been milder, and we are hoping to see the first egg hatch between March 18-20 and the second hatch between March 21-23, 2021.
March 3, 2020
With a steady rain at NCTC this morning, the male eagle is doing his best to keep the nest area dry by spreading his wings wider than normal or "tenting". Note how the raindrops run off his well-preened feathers. The female will set on the eggs about 80% of the time, but the male will often give her a break. The larger body mass of the female helps keep the eggs warm. Both adults have a "brood patch" on their breast - a small area without their insulating feathers, this allows body heat to contact the eggs directly. Every hour or so, the female turns the eggs with her beak to ensure even heating. As she sits back on the eggs, you'll see her do a little "wiggle" to make sure her brood patch is on the eggs!
February 27, 2020
After a night of heavy rain a stiff wind is helping to dry the nest and ruffle feathers. You may see the female eagle using her beak to fluff up clumps of nest grass. She will then pull in dry material and “tuck it in” around her body to help keep her two eggs warm and dry. The male may also fly in with clumps of dry grass in his talons. Thanks to the Outdoor Channel for their work on two new features for the NCTC Eagle Cam. A rewind/dvr function will allow viewers to go back and see action they may have missed. The dvr work is still in progress. Also, if you scroll down, you’ll see a Facebook chat function has been added for viewer questions or comments. Enjoy!
February 25, 2020
The NCTC Eagles are now sitting on two eggs and it is possible a third egg could be on the way. The first egg was laid on Feb. 11 and the second egg laid on Feb. 14, Valentine's Day! Incubation takes from 35-38 days so we are hoping to see the first eaglet hatching @ March 18.
Both the male and female share brooding duty and both have a "brood patch" to help keep the eggs warm. Look for them to use their beaks and turn the eggs about every two hours to ensure even heating. The eggs are deep in the nest cup and difficult to see. Thanks to Paul & Bald Eagles 101 for reporting the second egg laying!
February 18, 2020
First egg for 2020! The first egg at the NCTC bald eagle nest came yesterday afternoon, 2/17/2020. The incubation period is ~ 35 days, during which time the eagles will keep the egg/s warm and turn them every hour or so, to ensure an even temperature. It is quite possible that another egg or two is still to come …. stay tuned!
February 14, 2020
It's Valentines Day and "love is in the air", literally, at the NCTC eagle nest. The bald eagle pair have been busy nest building and mating - signs that eggs could be coming soon. In past years, eggs have generally been laid during the last two weeks of February. So, keep an eye on the nest - if you see the birds bringing in dry grass, that's a sign that eggs could be coming soon. Welcome to the 2020 nesting season at the National Conservation Training Center!
December 19, 2019
The winter solstice will soon be here but the NCTC bald eagle pair has been keeping busy during these short hours of daylight. They are tuned in to their yearly biological cycle and this is the season for nest building and nest repair. On days of reasonably good weather, you can watch both eagles bring in sticks to build up the sides of their "crib". It's often amusing to watch the male and female in a tug of war over just exactly where the next stick should be placed. Check out the YouTube video from Deb Stecyk at Bald Eagles 101.
2019 Eagle Updates
June 20, 2019 - Learning to Fly!
As Tom Petty wrote in his well known song "coming down is the hardest thing". The NCTC fledgling eagle found that out in the early morning hours of June 16. As she attempted to jump from the nest to her favorite perch, she missed and went over the edge of the nest! Check out these two videos captured by Deb Stecyk at Bald Eagles 101. The infrared light emitted near the camera provides us with black and white "night vision" on the first video. Fall from the nest YouTube video.
Fall from nest: 1:39:30 - 1:39:50
Though we knew she was almost ready to fly, we were a little concerned that this "forced fledge" might have injured the young eagle. However, the next morning we could hear her shrill calls and the rustling of branches below the nest, so we assumed she was ok. On the morning of June 17, she returned to the nest, perched for a while, then practiced take offs and landings. Fall from the nest YouTube video
00:00:55 return to nest and perching
00:09:16 wings spread and takeoff then soaring
00:09:54 fly in and land
00:14:30 calls out for fish
00:15:15-00:16:05 wing spread, take off and soars in distance
So, after a dramatic fledge day, she is coming and going from her nest whenever she likes! You'll still find her here from time to time, for the next month or two.
May 28, 2019 - Cooling Off
On a recent hot afternoon, the adult male cools off by opening his wings a bit to help ventilate his body. Eagles, vultures and other birds will sometimes also hold this pose to help dry their feathers. In this photo, note the long and strong flight feathers extending from the bottom of his wing. The eaglet, at nearly 9 weeks old, has been growing these flight feathers over the past weeks. In another week or two she will need them - fledge time is coming soon!
May 8, 2019 - Guess Who's Coming to Breakfast?
Yesterday morning the NCTC nest had an unexpected visitor. A juvenile eagle, ~3 years old - judging by it's head feathers, dropped in. This visitor was not aggressive, he was likely hungry and looking for food. After a few minutes of observing the visitor, the eaglet stood up, arched his back and hissed. This action did not scare the visiting eagle, he stayed in the nest for about 8 minutes, then flew off.
Could the visitor have been a nestling from 2016? It is possible, we just can't say. The previous day, the adult female was observed protecting the eaglet, making stress calls and tracking the sky for over an hour. She may have been seeing this visitor the day before. Thinking that competitor eagles were in the area, both adults may have been patrolling the river when this juvenile saw his chance to visit the unguarded nest.
The eaglet is now 40 days old and his protective feathers are filling in nicely. He is starting to eat on his own and the adults stay off the nest for longer periods, though they are usually nearby. The sycamore tree leaves are growing quickly too and providing welcome shade for the eaglet on these warmer May days.
May 1, 2019 - Fish Delivery!
The male eagle brings a large fish to the NCTC nest in this photo captured by Deb Stecyk. At 33 days old the NCTC eaglet is the size of a small turkey. It's growing fast on a study diet of fish with an occasional duck or squirrel brought to the nest. The eaglet is now able to stand and it's wings seem to grow overnight. Talons and beak are growing fast too. She is just starting to use her beak to pull off pieces of food. We also see the start of darker black juvenile feathers coming through the grey thermal down. After the 5th week, structural grow will begin to slow a bit while feather growth will increase. We'll soon see some dramatic changes in appearance of this young eagle! NCTC Eagle Cam: For details on eagle development, see this Raptor Resource Project article.
April 8, 2019 - Nature's Way
The youngest of the NCTC eaglets died Sunday, Apr.7, at just one week old. We were very surprised because both eaglets appeared healthy and had been getting plenty of food. Because eaglets grow so fast, the youngest of the nest is smallest and usually the most vulnerable. However, the adults were taking good care of both chicks, ensuring they both had constant brooding to keep warm and lots of food. We do not know what may have caused this week old eaglet to die. The good news is that the first hatched eaglet is now 10 days old, healthy and eating well, as seen in this photo. Thanks to all the NCTC Eagle Cam viewers who asked about the eaglet and expressed their concern. We appreciate your thoughtfulness.
April 4, 2019
The first eaglet hatched on March 29, day 37. The second egg was hatched on March 31, day 36. In this photo below on the left, the first eaglet, not quite 2 days old is already strong enough to reach for food. The second eaglet, about 1 hour old, is visible in the nest bottom. Look for the adults to feed the chicks every hour, or so. Between feeding the adults will brood the chicks, keeping them warm and protected from predators. Photo on right: The adults are double teaming at feeding time. The eaglet on the right is only one day old - already upright and eating! Lots of food in the nest including fresh fish from the nearby Potomac.
March 1, 2019
"Tenting" is the body posture eagles use to help keep snow or rain off the egg cup, as much as possible. The harder the precipitation, the more they spread out their wings. Whenever possible, wet grass will be replaced with dry grass in the nest. The adults expend a great deal of energy to keep the eggs warm, dry and safe from predators.
February 26, 2019
After a week of snow and high wind, it's a peaceful day at the NCTC nest. The first egg was laid Feb. 20 and the second on Feb. 23. With an incubation period of approximately 35 days, we hope to see eaglets hatching @ Mar. 27-30. During incubation, the male will bring food to the nest while the female incubates eggs. They sometimes switch these duties, but one adult will always be on, or near, the nest. Eggs must be kept at a near constant temperature and turned occasionally. The female has a "brood patch" - an area without insulating feathers & down - that allows her to contact the eggs directly with her warm breast. Look for her distinctive "wiggle" when she sets back on the eggs after turning them, she's getting the eggs right against her for maximum warmth.
February 20, 2019
Snow fills the NCTC eagle nest. 5 inches of snow fell early in the day and the eagles have been clearing the nest cup of snow. They have been busy all week bringing in sticks and dry grass. All signs that eggs could be coming anytime.....stay tuned!
February 11, 2019
Welcome to the 2019 bald eagle nesting season at the National Conservation Training Center. The NCTC eagle pair have been working hard to prep their nest over the last few weeks. Eggs are generally laid around mid-February, so stay tuned!
About the NCTC Eagle Cam: This project is a partnership among the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Outdoor Channel, and the Friends of the National Conservation Training Center. We also acknowledge the many dedicated eagle fans from around the country and the world who have been with us from the beginning, and who have provided a great deal of support for this project. The eagle nest is located approximately 75 miles from Washington, D.C. on the campus of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services' National Conservation Training Center. The nest in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, is approximately 1/4 mile from the Potomac River.
2018 Eagle Updates
May 7, 2018
For 13 seasons we have all watched the NCTC Eagles, and it has been a wonder to behold. Some years we have seen three fledglings finally leave the nest, and other years have been heartbreaking to observe with new mates, ice storms, broken eggs, and empty nests. The enthusiasm over the webcam has brought together a passionate community of eagle fans who have grown to love the birds and gain a better understanding of their lives. We are privileged to be passive observers of wild nature, and we are grateful for those of you who watch these birds for us.
We expect that this season will not be a productive one. The two eggs laid have not been viable, and there have been sometimes violent confrontations between a number of adult and juvenile bald eagles over the past few months. Nest competition has resulted in the likely loss of our original female bird, who has been replaced by a new female. The displaced female had been in this nest for over a decade, but natural selection is a part of nature, and the younger, more vigorous female has pushed the older bird out.
Our eagle biologists have told us for some time now that the population of bald eagles in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed is very healthy, and with this success brings great competition for nesting habitat. This is good news, as 50 years ago the bald eagle was perched on the brink of extinction. The sometimes violent competition we have been viewing is a natural process. In healthy ecosystems, this is how nature works, even though it can be cruel to watch. Viewing this behavior before we had webcams and the internet was only possible through careful research by a few intrepid field biologists.
Thank you for your continued support and understanding as we move forward. We would not have this community, nor the cam, without the help of all of our friends and partners – The Friends of the NCTC, Outdoor Channel, and the Eaglet Momsters.
2017 Eagle Updates
April 06, 2017
Due to unknown circumstances, the second of the two eaglets born this year expired early April 1st. The loss of two eaglets (3/27 & 4/1) is a rare experience at this nest; complete nest failures are not regular occurrences. The 2ndhatchling, born Tues. March 28th, appeared to be sound; moving within the nest bowl and taking food from the parents within one day of hatching. Food was continuously provided over the next three days, and both adults took turns brooding the chick.
Biologists do not know what affected the recently hatched chicks, but possibilities include weather or disease. Weather-related factors such as heavy rainfall during the nesting period can influence the nesting success of birds including raptors. Studies show that inclement weather can drive avian parents to increase their energy outputs and time hunting. Heavy, consistent rainfall may have factored into the male's time away from the nest due to increases in time hunting food and the female’s need to mantle the eaglet to maintain optimal body temperatures. While such weather is not atypical for birds, these components along with any present biological challenges may lead to nest failure (McDonald et al. 2004). On Friday, March 31st, the amount of rain was significant, resulting in 0.8 inches of rain!
Microbes can be components of nests, egg laying, and hatching events. The last blog post (March 16, 2017) began a discussion of possible biological reasons for the death of the first hatchling. Research in trans-shell microbes (Cook et al. 2003) indicates that the probability of infections is high. They have shown that incubation temperatures, timing, green nesting material, and weather conditions play a role in limiting infections across the shell and inside eggs. We may never know if an infection impacted our eggs, but this is another factor in the nesting success equation.
Questions remain about the possibility of a second clutch. According to biologists at NCTC, the possibility of a second clutch is low. If they attempt another clutch, timing, weather, and food matches may pose new challenges for the pair. The amount of energy, stored fat is required to lay new eggs, and impending hot weather are major issues. Bald eagles lay and hatch before the steady summer weather arrives since they can only obtain moisture from the food they consume.
The NCTC Eagle Cam offers us a unique perspective: a ‘sneak peek” into the living room of an apex predator during a crucial time in its life cycle. Although this nesting season may not continue as expected and action in the nest may decline, we plan to keep the Eagle Cam up and running until mid-June or early July keeping an eye out for the adults who occasionally return to the nest.
We thank everyone who watch the live feed, reads the updates and corresponds with our team. We also send a special note of thanks to Terri Bayles, Debi Chiappini, Deb Stecyk, and Doreen Wermer who were integral to our 2016 research initiative to quantify prey deliveries to the nest. They along with so many others are essential to our mission and help us to maintain a watchful eye on the health and progress of this incredible species.
Thanks also to Outdoor Channel, the Friends of the NCTC, Hancock Wildlife Foundation, FWS eagle biologist Craig Koppie, NCTC staff, Lois Johnson-Mead, Clayton McBride, Rob Ball, and all of the long time followers of the cam.
Mar 30, 2017
Hatch day has finally arrived! The pair laid two eggs in late February, however this year, the hatch results were 50% successful. On March 25, 2017, first of two eggs began to show signs of pipping. A viable chick was expected based on the movements observed, and soft sounds heard. Due to circumstances unknown to us, the adults did not begin feeding the new chick. Over the next days (March 25-26), no feeding was observed despite a fish deliveries to the nest. The adults were observed feeding themselves but not the new hatchling.
On March 26th, no further evidence of the first hatchling was seen. Therefore, it is safe to assume based on a lack of feeding and no visual parenting behavior that the first chick did not survive. The parents continued to incubate the remaining egg. On the evening of March 27th, we did observe the 2nd egg moving, and the female was seen gazing down into the nest bowl, indicating that a second hatch was in process. When the pair switched incubation roles that morning, a small pip in the shell was evident! We are fortunate to report that the second hatch was successful and feeding began soon after final hatch March 28, 2017.
The process of pipping occurs when a hatching bird begins to emerge from inside the egg. The egg tooth starts an internal pip with breaking the membrane covering the chick. The shell is porous, allowing for air exchange, and the chick begins breaking inside the egg. Next, the external pip begins. Through internal movement, a special pipping muscle, and breaking the shell chip by chip, the emerging chick creates a larger window in the shell (Brooks & Garrett, 1970). According to raptor biologists at the Raptor Resource Project, it can take a hatchling between 24-48 hours to go from pip to hatch!
We will never know why the first chick did not survive. But a newly emerging chick goes through several significant changes before and during the hatch. Before it hatches, it needs to absorb the egg yolk inside for energy to push and pick at the egg shell. It has to start breathing inside the egg, and immediately after emerging, it has to inflate its lungs sufficiently enough to breathe on its own. With so many variables in the birthing equation, we can see how post-hatch chick survival is a significant feat and a marvel to observe.
March 15, 2017
On Monday, March 13, the eagle pair experienced a significant snowstorm for the first time during this nesting season! The storm continued into the next morning completely immersing the female in snow. She incubated the eggs throughout the night until the male returned to begin incubating the eggs.
One might wonder how an eagle keeps itself and the eggs warm when heavy snow occurs. Bald eagles have unique body features and have also been shown to alter their behavior to modulate heat as temperatures decline (Stalmaster & Gessaman, 1984). Specifically, they retain body heat and minimize heat loss by a) sedentary behavior to slow metabolism, b) slowing blood flow away from the skin to the digestive system, and by having a body covered with over 7,000 feathers. To keep the eggs warm, the brood patch, a featherless area on the chest, is placed against the eggs to keep them at an optimal temperature (99oF), with occasional egg rolls to evenly distribute heat throughout the egg.
While most birds nest during the spring season, this time of the year is optimal for raptors in response to specific environmental cues such as photoperiods and food availability. Apex predators and their offspring need a significant amount of protein for energy and growth, which fish provides. So, egg incubation occurs midwinter, just before fish spawning cycles begin. Once air and water temperatures increase, fish move back to spawning grounds to lay eggs, and these areas are near the foraging regions of the nest.
If you follow the behavior of anglers, one of the first fish caught in the Potomac River each spring are carp. Interestingly, our survey of the 2016 nest revealed the eagle adults also sourced this fish mid to late March, and were immediately fed to the eaglets after hatching!
The success of the nesting pair seems possible despite the weather because this period aligns with the breeding patterns and distribution shifts of their preferred food source, and the animals possess a unique set of physiological characteristics. In essence, the breeding strategy is food related; that is as new food emerges within the habitat, the eagle adults are ensuring that an abundant food supply is available for the rapidly growing eaglets.
March 9, 2017
It’s been two weeks since two eggs were laid at the NCTC nest on Feb. 17th & Feb. 20th. The adults continue to trade incubation sessions throughout the day with the female typically taking the night shift. Once awake, she calls out to the male who returns the call or returns to the nest. As the male focuses on the eggs, turns them, and then settles in to warm the eggs, the female flies away to hunt for food.
During the first week of March, an unusual occurrence happened midday: an intruder came close to the nest. A dark, spotted, large bird was observed descending onto the nest as the male was incubating. The adult immediately flew up to defend the nest and the eggs, scaring off the intruder. This could have been a juvenile eagle as one was seen several times during November as nest building was in initial phases. Raptor researchers report that fledged juveniles rarely return to a nest but it is possible to observe juveniles in the vicinity of a nest, possibly investigating the nest for food.
Nest maintenance continues as the male generally bring large sticks to the nest and occasionally has delivered a small meal to the nest. Mild temperatures and low precipitation occurrences have shaped the early nesting season, but wind speeds up to 50 mph on several days are a concern for a nest that is approximately 12 years old. As the winter season winds to an end, variance in daily weather conditions is to be expected. We can expect spring weather patterns to drive the nesting birds to fine-tune their behavior so they can consistently keep the egg warm, rotated, protected, and alive.
February 22, 2017
Two asynchronous eggs were laid! The first delivery occurred on February 17, 2017, and the second was delivered early morning February 20, 2017. The male and female will now share the task of incubating the eggs, trading between remaining in the nest to protect and keep the eggs warm while the other hunts and forages. We can expect up to three eggs, with the first hatch scheduled to occur on or around March 24th. The second or third hatchings will occur in order of delivery, resulting in a nest of eaglets at different maturity levels.
Several factors are known to drive avian reproduction such as hormonal triggers, temperature, food availability, and most importantly, the photoperiod (changes in day length). In 2016, the female laid its first egg on Feb. 9th when the daylight hours were recorded at 10 hours and 30 minutes, according to the U.S. Naval Observatory. The daylight hours for the February 17, 2017 delivery were almost 11 hours (10 hours and 58 minutes)! Interestingly, the eagle’s 2017 deliveries occurred 2-6 days and 6-8 days later than the 2015 and 2016 dates.
We will continue to observe the adult pair working on the nest, exhibiting bonding behaviors, and assuming the vital role of incubation for the next 35 -38 days.
February 9, 2017
In anticipation of a delivery, the bald eagle pair continues to bring sticks and grass to the nest shoring up the edges and rearranging the nest bowl center. Mating was observed several times in late November, and expectations are that the female will lay within the next week. Predicting the date of an egg delivery can be challenging, and certain factors play a role in shifting dates by one or two weeks.
American bald eagles breed during the winter or early spring when temperatures range from 25 to 45 oF (-4 to 6 oC).Temperature patterns have fluctuated in our region. In January 2017 alone, temperatures readings above 50 oF (10 oC) were recorded for 10 days. Yet bald eagle experts in Alaska believe that food availability and habitat quality drive breeding behavior (mating, nest building, etc.) more than temperature shifts (Hansen, 1987). However, extreme weather and temperatures (heavy snows or rains; below-average temperatures) can make food foraging challenging, leading bald eagles to advance or postpone egg-laying.
Fortunately, the eagles at NCTC harvest excellent food sources from the Potomac River, and this river has a man-made dam just over 1 mile from the nest site. Predicting the exact day of egg delivery may be challenging but the habitat factors within the region are supporting the annual nest success of this raptor pair and keeping those dates fairly consistent from year to year.