Ready to take flight

Young eagles will spend some time on ground first
Hearing a noise, the two baby eagles are drawn to the edge of the nest to see what is happening. The birds nearing the age when they will jump out and give their wings a try. They may not fly well on first try, but they will get the hang of it before they head south for a warmer winter than this area offers. (Star photo by Steve Allison)

 

Thanks to the Miles City Eagle Cam focused on a bald eagle nest high above the west end of Main Street, hundreds of people have watched a bald eagle pair incubating the two eggs, the eggs hatching and the young birds eating, sleeping and growing.

The young eagles hatched on April 19 and are approaching 10 weeks old. Now they are preparing to take flight. 

They are strengthening their wings by flapping around the nest. 

Information Officer Cathy Stewart from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks said eagles are fully grown at nine weeks.

An FWP website states that the first flights usually occur at 9 or 10 weeks.

When they leave the nest, the fledging phase begins. 

“Once they leave that nest, they are going to spend a significant amount of time on the ground,” Stewart said. 

They will build strength by hopping around, flapping their wings a lot and flying short distances. 

“At this time people seem to think there is something wrong with them,” she said.

While the eagles are learning to fly, the parents continue to feed their young.

In the past people have called the FWP office out of concern for the eagles, and one person even threw a blanket over one and brought it in. 

Stewart said it got away from the office and flew north, instead of east where the nest was. They went to look for it and could not find it, and the parents were staying with the other fledgling. 

“Even the matter of moving the bird may seal its fate,” she said.

They did not know if the young bird ever got back to its parents.

She said there will probably be 4-10 days of hopping around with the current pair.

Stewart advises people to leave them alone, give them space and don’t let their dogs or children chase them.

“Definitely don’t approach them because they are full grown. Their talons and beaks are seriously sharp, and they have every ability a mature eagle has in defending itself,” she said.

She said it is a wonderful time to watch them but cautioned, “Just keep your distance.”

Fifty feet would be the closest people could get to them, but farther would be better, she said. “You don’t want to send them into panic mode. Plus, the parents will be circling, watching and still will be bringing food to those babies.”

“I tell you, they look good,” she said of the young eagles’ health.

In the first six weeks of the fledgling stage, the young birds will stay close to the nest site, she said.

As they grow stronger, they may follow parents on hunting trips.

The web cam recording the eagles has been utilized by many. 

Biologists have the opportunity to see the eagles’ behavior instead of just reading about it. 

Classrooms all over the country have used the eagle cam for lessons. Besides science classes, it has been used for writing projects by having the students watch the eagle cam for a few minutes, then write about what they saw. 

In May, Stewart visits a lot of classrooms, and she got a lot of feedback from the kids.

ROCKS Executive Director Joyce Vera said the eagle cam is a big hit with the kids in the program. Often she would hear the kids keeping track of what the eagles were doing and getting excited about any changes.

While FWP knew it would be used by schools, what they didn’t expect was  it being streamed into cancer treatment centers across the country.

“All the adults (patients) talk about it, and the kids getting treatment are mesmerized by them,” Stewart said.

She was told of a man who is terminally ill and had a career outdoors. The eagle cam is streamed onto the television screen so he can watch it anytime.

Stewart said the feedback has all been “very positive.”

“It created a very basic knowledge of the natural process happening around us,” she said.

It’s raised an awareness, and a lot of people have personalized what they see, she continued. Watching the eagle cam become a part of people’s daily schedule.

She’s been told, jokingly, that it was going to cause a divorce in some families because people were watching it so much.

Dean Hanvold of Technology Plus installed and maintains the camera. He said there are usually 140-150 viewers at a time during the daytime, and it has gotten as high as 282 people. At night it drops to 80-90 viewers.

The hits start climbing at 8 a.m. and begin declining at 6 p.m.

He has been surprised at how much it has held people’s interest. “I thought it would drop off after a month.”

He said there have been comments from all over the country. 

“I’m kind of surprised how well it’s gone over and how smoothly it all went ... once we got all the bugs out. That took a little while,” he said. 

“We need to do some tree trimming,” he laughed. As the trees got their leaves, part of the nest has been obscured.

Stewart said they may turn off the camera once the eagles aren’t hanging around anymore to save maintenance on the camera.

Stewart said the FWP appreciates the community’s support, which she called “phenomenal,” and the support of Mayor Butch Grenz and the City of Miles City for the use of Miles City Fire and Rescue’s ladder truck.