VDGIF/Norfolk Botanical Garden Eagle Cam: 04/01/2009 - 05/01/2009

The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, in partnership with the Norfolk Botanical Garden and WVEC, is providing a rare glimpse into the life of two bald eagles and their offspring!

Monday, April 27, 2009

“The Banders”

Our last blog post focused on the recipients of the bands (the eaglets). Here will briefly introduce those who actually did the the banding.

The biologists involved with this effort are with the Center for Conservation Biology (CCB) at the College of William & Mary . DGIF and CCB are frequent partners in research and management of the Commonwealth's wildlife. Dr. Bryan Watts (Director of the CCB) and Libby Mojica (CCB staff biologist) measured and recorded the data regarding the eaglets. Libby attached the bands and Reese Lukei (CCB research associate) photo documented the events. DGIF wildlife biologist Stephen Living was present as an observer.

A check on the eaglets this morning show them to be doing well...continuing to practice walking on their feet and generally lazing in the morning sun. Note how quickly their juvenile plumage is growing...soon all three will be covered with brown feathers. The young still haven't gotten the hang of tearing their own food. They'll need to increase their foot dexterity to be able to hold prey down before they can begin to feed themselves.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

“Banding results”

Yesterday's banding of the three eaglets at the Norfolk Botanical Garden was successful. Climbers from Nuckols Tree Care (who volunteered their services) accessed the nest and lowered the eaglets to biologists from the Center for Conservation Biology at William & Mary. The weather gave us brief cause for concern as a small rain squall moved through the area - but close monitoring of radar maps indicated that we could proceed safely.

All three of the young eagles looked healthy with no signs of any problems. They were weighed and measured, with a small blood sample taken in an effort to develop a DNA database of bald eagles. The measurements allow biologists to assess the development of the chicks and can be used to identify the gender of the chicks. The information is summarized below - note that the sex of one of the eaglets could not be determined as its measurements fell in between the range for male and female birds.

Eaglet #1 - Band # 679-01346 Color Band: HK
Hatched March 21st
Gender: Male
Weight: 2630 grams (5.80 pounds)
Wing Chord (length of wing from wrist to end of longest primary feather): 23.9 cm
Tail Length: 7.8cm

Eaglet #2 - Band # 679-01345 Color Band HH
Hatched March 22nd
Gender: Unknown
Weight: 2973 grams (6.55 pounds)
Wing Chord: 22.5cm
Tail Length: 4.5cm

Eaglet #3 - Band # 679-01344 Color Band HE
Hatched March 25th
Gender Male
Weight: 2715 grams (5.99 pounds)
Wing Chord: 20.2
Tail Length: 4.5cm

Note that although the oldest bird has the lowest weight - its feathering was notably more advanced then its siblings

Each of the chicks were fitted with two bands. These bands are issued by the US Geological Survey Biological Resources Division, who manages the Bird Banding Laboratory (BBL) at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland. The BBL maintains a database with information on all birds banded under its authority. The first band is aluminum and has a unique alphanumeric code. The code on this band identifies the location and date the bird was banded along with any other vital information recorded. These bands can be difficult to read in the field (although it is possible with very good optics). The second is a color band and has a two letter code and is more easily read in the field. All birds banded in the Chesapeake Bay region are fitted with purple bands. The public can report sightings of banded birds at the BBL website Bird banding provides valuable information to researchers that can be applied to bald eagle conservation. Reports of bands can reveal something about the movements of bald eagles once they fledge from the nest, as well as information about longevity. The bands are more then large enough to accommodate any future growth and small enough to remain securely attached

The researchers that perform this work are highly experienced and able to accomplish this task with minimal disturbance to the birds. The eaglets were banded at this stage in their development because they remain fairly docile during the procedure. The adults soared overhead but did not interfere with the banding. Shortly after the equipment was moved from the base of the nest tree one of the adults returned to the nest. By 2:30 pm the female had returned yet again to feed all three of the eaglets. The eagles have since resumed their typical schedule.

In May, one of the chicks will be fitted with a satellite transmitter. This will provide real time data allowing the movements of the bird to tracked once it leaves the nest. The transmitter is relatively small and does not interfere with the bird's flight. This transmitter will collect invaluable data and help fill in information gaps regarding the movements of eagles. This type of data will inform future management decisions and identify important habitats and resources.

From left to Right: Dr. Bryan Watts (eaglet #2), Reese Lukei (eaglet #1), Stephen Living (eaglet #3)

Monday, April 20, 2009

“Banding Rescheduled”

Due to the inclement weather today's eaglet banding has been rescheduled for 10:00am on Wednesday April 22nd

Friday, April 17, 2009


The eaglets at the Norfolk Botanical Garden will be banded by biologists from the College of William & Mary's Center for Conservation Biology at approximatley 1:00pm on Monday April 20th. Staff from the Norfolk Botanical Garden will host a special event chat on the WVEC chat and detail the action on the ground.

The chicks will be removed from the nest by climbers from Nuckols Tree Care and Old Dominion University who regularly volunteer to assist with managment of the eagles at this nest. Biologists on the ground will measure and weigh the birds. At this age the measurement should reveal the gender of the birds. The timing for the banding is important. The young must be large enough that the bands will remain securely on their leg and young enough to be fairly docile. Once removed from the nest the young will be measured, weighed and banded. A small blood sample will be taken along with a single feather to collect a genetic sample. The young will be returned to the nest none the worse for wear. During the procedure the adults will circle overhead, keeping a close watch on the proceedings. Shortly after the young are back in the nest the adults will resume their parental duties.

Banding allows scientists to collect information about wild birds such as: dispersal and migration, behavior and social structure, life-span and survival rate, reproductive success and population growth. Each band carries a unique numeric code that is reported to the Bird Banding Laboratory at the United States Geologic Survey’s Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. The public can report sightings of banded birds at Bald eagles are banded with a riveted metal band to prevent the birds from removing the band. The band will last throughout the bird’s lifetime.

“Camera Issues Diagnosed”

We have tracked down the issue that limited our control over the camera. After conferring with the manufacturer our suspicions have been confirmed. There is a fault with the internal programming or "firmware" of the camera itself.

The good news is that the problem may be easy to rectify by reloading the firmware. The bad news is that if any error occurs during the reload we could lose the camera completely - cutting off our broadcast stream.

Because of the potential for complete loss we have elected not to attempt the reload until we have a back-up camera unit in hand. In the event of camera loss the new camera could be installed, minimizing any downtime of camera coverage. The camera has been ordered, unfortunately we will not be able to accomplish this work before the eaglets are banded on Monday April 20th. This means that viewers will be restricted to the current camera view. We will ensure that photos of the event are posted to the blog.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

“How Quickly They Change”

It is now just over three weeks since the last eaglet hatched. In that time you'll note that have grown remarkably. In the series of images below you can see their general growth as well as the replacement of the fluffy natal down with the heavy brown down they have now. With this more weatherproof plumage and increased metabolism the eaglets are now able to spend increasing amounts of time on their own. This is normal and does not indicate any lack of attention by the adults. One of the adults generally remains close by even if they are out of the camera view.

The oldest of the eaglets has begun to stand on its feet, a good developmental sign. Prior to this the feet were too small and the chicks balance insufficient to allow this feet. Until this point the chicks have rested on their tarsometatarsus (the leg bone above their foot).

The coming week will mark the most rapid period of growth for these eaglets - by next week flight (wing and tail) feathers and contour (body) feather will be apparent.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

“Growing quickly”

All three of the eaglets continue to do well. The difference in size since they hatched is remarkable. Bald eagles grow rapidly adding on average 105g(males) -130g(females)of body weight per day - more then any other bird in North America.

All three chicks continue to feed well. Not every chick is fed during every feeding - this is not a cause for concern as this pair feeds their young quite frequently. You can see the light down that the chicks hatched with being replaced by a heavier darker grey woolly down. The chicks ability to self-regulate their own body temperature is improving, allowing them to be unbrooded for longer periods of time.

We are aware of the problems with the camera. Sometime on April 6th certain camera functionally was lost. While the camera is still broadcasting and operators are able to access it - we are not at this time able to either move the camera or turn on the night vision capability. We are in touch with the camera manufacturer and will continue to work to solve this problem.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

“FRESH Fish”

One week has passed since the last of the three eaglets hatched. All three are growing quickly and are highly active. The youngest sometimes has a bit of a hard time during feedings, but the adults are providing plenty of food and all three chicks seem to be getting adequate food.

The male twice brought live prey to the nest this morning. First the male landed with a VERY much alive American Eel. The eel created much excitement at the nest as it least temporarily. It was recaptured and brought back to the nest. later in the morning the male brought what appears to be a Hickory Shad to the nest. Again this prey was still very active and flopped around the nest. Although these eaglets are still too young to deal with prey themselves this exposure to live prey items is the first step in their development as hunters.

A sharp eyed camera viewer captured both feeding episodes and has posted them:

Hickory Shad: