The intimate moments that transpire in an eagle’s nest typically remain a secret. Unless that nest happens to be our local bald eagle trio where tens of thousands of admirers located all over the world are faithfully binge watching these international superstars. The trio’s recent erotic escapades now confirm that another nesting effort has begun, with the first egg laid Feb. 18.
This unique story began in 2004 when a bald eagle pair set up residence near Mississippi River Lock and Dam 13. The pair didn’t mind that hundreds of bald eagles congregate near their nest in winter to dine on the sushi buffet that floats in the dam’s tailwater. Success and tragedy have provided a historic documentary of the challenges that bald eagles endure in today’s environment.
The first three years of nesting from 2004-2006 were devastating. High winds destroyed the nest in 2004 and 2005. Eggs were laid and incubation was underway in 2006 when one mate was electrocuted after flying into a power line. The despondent partner abandoned the nest.
The next four years of nesting unveiled success with a new mate. Two eaglets fledged in 2007 and three fledged in 2008. A single eaglet fledged in 2009 but flew into a power line and was killed; 2010 heralded success as three eaglets fledged.
In 2011, a webcam was installed at the nest through partnership of the Stewards of Upper Mississippi River Refuge, Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, and the Corps of Engineers. Catastrophic events changed the lives of this eagle pair. The 7-year-old nest had incurred significant wind damage. The pair relocated the nest and laid eggs, but wind toppled the tree.
Tragedy followed the eagle pair in 2012. They returned to a former nest tree and laid two eggs. The male would perch near the nest but wouldn’t incubate the eggs or bring food to the incubating female. She had to leave the nest to feed, which resulted in the eggs being exposed to freezing temperatures for hours. Surprisingly, both eggs hatched. At four days old, both chicks tumbled off the edge of the shallow nest and died.
In 2013, the female ousted the dysfunctional male for a new mate; however, the old mate decided to hang around. The proud new parents fledged two eaglets while the outcast mate jealously perched nearby.
A new nest location was chosen in 2014, out of the webcam’s prying lens, and heavy vegetation prevented ground observers from determining if young were fledged. However, the pair and outcast mate were present during the entire nesting season, indicating success. Three eaglets fledged in 2015 and the outcast male continued his presence near the nest.
In 2016, the trio of eagles returned and set up housekeeping activities. The outcast mate now helped with nest-building activities and both males copulated with the female. Three eaglets hatched but at two weeks of age, the webcam was damaged and the success of the nest was unknown.
The year 2017 was a tragic one: A marauding bald eagle pair attacked and killed the female. The two dads valiantly fought off additional random attacks and raised two chicks to earn the “Best Eagle Dads” award. The next year saw an uneventful but successful nesting effort, with two eaglets fledged. We are hoping for a similar uneventful successful nesting story in 2019.
You can enjoy the live streaming webcam that provides a documentary into the lives of these magnificent birds at the website www.stewardsumrr.org.
Ed Britton is a wildlife refuge manager on the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge and volunteer at Bickelhaupt Arboretum.