Six weeks ago on February 13, the Hays bald eagle nest tree blew over in a storm while the female was incubating her first egg. Within a week the pair built a new nest nearby and, though they can't be seen on the webcam, observers on the ground can tell the eagles began incubation on a new egg on February 19.
Bald eagle eggs typically hatch in 35 days. Today, March 26, is the 35th day.
Eagle fans don't wait until hatch day to begin their vigil. Yesterday Dana Nesiti (Eagles of Hays PA on Facebook) arrived before dawn and captured the photo above. I stopped by at 3pm and found Eaglestreamer and LFL on duty.
Eaglestreamer has tracked the Hays eagles for years and told me that their first hatch date is often Day 37 so there's still time to be there for the big event. (See Eaglestreamer's hatch website here.)
Even if you miss the hatch, the eagles will be exciting in the days ahead as they bring food to the nest.
UPDATE MARCH 28: HATCHED! Without a webcam on-the-ground observers look for parents-feeding-young behavior. This behavior was confimed on 28 March 2017. Eaglestreamer writes: "2 fish delivered back to back as was finally able to get a peek at small bits of food being torn and offered with lowered beak."
We use words like powerful, strong or fierce to describe raptors but this one is different. The swallow-tailed kite (Elanoides forficatus) is truly graceful.
Named for their beautiful black tails, their flight is so buoyant that they barely flap as they swoop and turn to grab food from the air or the treetops. They seem to be moving in slow motion and it's true. They can fly slowly because their wings and tails are so long.
Swallow-tailed kites live year round in South America but only visit the southern U.S. and Central America to breed. They eat mostly insects which they capture with their feet but supplement their diet with frogs, lizards and nestling birds during the nesting season.
I've seen solo kites returning to Florida in late February but my best experience was last month on the Road Scholar birding trip to Costa Rica. We saw flocks of swallow-tailed kites and they were spectacular!
At a pond near the road to Agua Buena, three kites skimmed the water, drinking and bathing, as graceful as swallows. They flew so low that we could see the bluish sheen on their backs. Jon Goodwill photographed them in the flight.
Later we took a detour ... and we were lucky. Our guide Roger Melendez saw a pair of kites building a nest. Bert Dudley zoomed his camera for this video of the female arranging the sticks. (You can hear us talking in the background.)
Golden eagles prefer to nest in wide open habitats without humans. They don't breed in the eastern U.S., probably because it's too densely populated. So when you see the "sky dance" in Pittsburgh you're watching a male red-tailed hawk claim his territory.
Red-tailed hawks are closely related to golden eagles but neither one of them is related to bald eagles. Click here to find out why.
If you don't look at all the data you'll probably be fooled.
For the past 30 years the number of red-tailed hawks migrating past hawk watches has declined across North America except at certain western sites. With only this information to go on, you'd think that the species is in trouble.
But Neil Paprocki of HawkWatch International and his colleagues looked further. They compared hawk watch counts to the data gathered during Christmas Bird Counts in December-January and found that since 1984 red-tailed hawks have stayed in northern latitudes in much greater numbers. They noted that red-tail counts declined at 43% of the hawk watches and increased on 67% of the Christmas Bird Counts.
As the climate warms and the winters are milder there's less snow cover in the northern latitudes so it's easier for the hawks to find food. Fewer of them are bothering to travel south.
The first time I saw the ornate hawk-eagle specimen at Carnegie Museum I didn't even know the bird existed. Its beauty impressed me (ornate legs shown above) and that was before I learned what he can do with his head feathers! (photo below from Wikimedia Commons)
I hoped to see this bird in the wild some day, but I never expected it would happen.
Ornate hawk-eagles (Spizaetus ornatus) live in the rainforest from southeastern Mexico to Colombia but are rarely seen. Their numbers are declining because of deforestation, so it was quite a thrill when our Road Scholar birding group saw one at San Gerardo de Dota, Costa Rica on 4 February 2017. We learned afterward that none had been seen in the area since a flyover two years before and prior to that 10 years. We were very lucky.
This video tribute to Dr. Alexander Skutch displays the beauty of these majestic birds as they nest in Costa Rica. The video text is in Spanish. Thank you to our guide, Roger Melendez, for assisting with the English translation below.
Ornate hawk-eagle voices are similar to those of bald eagles and ospreys. The chick in the video, like other raptor fledglings, begs with the familiar open-wing-whining stance.
"Rapaces ..." Raptors Foundation of Costa Rica: For Knowledge and Conservation of Birds of Prey
"Así ..." So, when the coffin [of Dr. Skutch] approached Los Cusingos, on the branch of a tree at the side of the road was a most beautiful hawk [an ornate hawk-eagle] with outstretched wings.
"Ave muy ..." [This] bird is very difficult to see in this area, for which Dr. Alexander felt a particular affection. -- Luko Hilge, 2004, regarding the death of Alexander F. Skutch ("Farewell of birds"), from Alexander Skutch, The Last Great Naturalist?
"Dia" means Day. Day 0, Day 30, Day 60 ... since the egg was laid.
"Compartimos ... " We share with you a fragment of the life of the ornate hawk-eagle, from its incubation to its first adventures around the nest, always with the hope of passing on to the viewer that "spark" of appreciation and conservation of our wonderful birds of prey.
Last night around 9:34pm the Hays bald eagle nest tree fell during a terrific wind storm.
The female bald eagle was on the nest at the time, incubating the egg she laid last Friday evening. Archived video shows she flew away before the tree fell. Reports from the trail, awaiting confirmation, say that both eagles were seen flying so they are fine.
My thoughts about the timing of this incident: It is good news that this happened very early in the nesting season. There were no chicks in the nest and it is so early that there is still time for the adults to re-nest nearby.
ASWP Press Release and Facebook updates as of 6:30am, 13 Feb 2017:
[Hays, PA, February 12, 2017, approx 10:00pm] – It appears that the tree that is home to the Hays Bald Eagle nest has been damaged in tonight’s wind storm. From our Bald Eagle camera view, at www.aswp.org, the tree is no longer visible.
“The tree was impacted by tonight’s storm and we will need to wait until daylight to get onsite and determine what has happened,” says Jim Bonner, executive director, Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania. The status of the nest and the eagles cannot be verified until daylight, when Audubon can safely visit the site.
We will continue to keep the media updated on the status of the nest and the Bald Eagles. Please see below a screen shot of the current view from the camera. The tree and the nest are not visible.
[Update from ASWP at approx. 11:00pm via Facebook]
Update: Just reviewed the archives, the tree fell at 9:34 pm. Looks like the female was on the nest. She was awake at the time and flew off of the nest as the tree fell out of view. These are admittedly not the world's best screen grabs, but you can see the eagle awake just as the tree starts to go, then getting off of the nest as the tree goes down.
The tree fell over at the root ball. My comment on this: The ground was extremely soggy after 4" of snow melted all at once on Saturday. It's very common for trees to fall like this when the ground is soggy.
Update from my visit to the Hays Trail, Mon Feb 13, 4:20pm:
Many people are visiting the Hays Eagle Viewing Site to check out the eagles' status. About 8 people were in the vicinity when I arrived at 4:00pm. I'm happy to report that the eagle pair is doing well and easily seen flying, perching, hunting and mating. The male brought sticks in his talons a couple of times while I was there so they are already thinking about a nest. If I was to lay bets ... I bet that a month from now they'll have a new nest in the vicinity of the old one and she'll lay eggs again. I'd also bet (based on the lack of big trees within nestcam view) that we won't be able to see it on camera. Hopefully they'll pick a site we can see easily from the trail.
(screenshot from Hays Eaglecam via ASWP's Bald Eagles of Western PA Facebook page. Screenshot from PixController via Annette Devinney)
There are more members of the Falcon family here in Costa Rica than in North America (*). Though some species are the same I expect to see at least three Life Bird Falconidae while I'm here: the yellow-headed caracara, the laughing falcon, and the bat falcon.
Like other members of the family, bat falcons (Falco rufigularis) capture birds and flying insects in mid air but they also capture bats. This earned them their name even though bats make up only 14% of their diet.
About the size of merlins, bat falcons live in open woodlands and tropical forests from Mexico to Brazil. Because they hunt for bats they're often seen at dawn and dusk perching high on conspicuous snags and bobbing their heads as they look for prey. Their flight is so fast and direct that they focus on eating the fastest birds: swifts, swallows and hummingbirds (oh my!).
Pennsylvania's bald eagle season is warming up. Eagle pairs are visiting their nests and the first egg in Pittsburgh is only four weeks away. Here's how to stay in touch while we wait for that happy event.
The Hays eaglecam in the City of Pittsburgh is broadcasting all day but not overnight until February because its solar batteries aren't getting enough sun. (No surprise in Pittsburgh's overcast winter.)
The Harmar eaglecam above Route 28 near the Oakmont Bridge is currently running overnight but may need to go into No-Night mode for the same reason.
You can Chat about eagles with other watchers by clicking on the chat button to the left of the camera views.
The eagles aren't always on camera, though, and the nestcams don't show them in flight. When the weather's fine you can see a lot from the ground. Click here for directions to the Hays viewing area or see excellent photos online by Annette Devinney and DanaNesiti, two of the many photographers who visit our Pittsburgh area eagles.
So keep on watching in the days ahead. If history is any guide, the first egg will appear at Hays February 14-20.
It won't be long now!
(photo and screenshot from ASWP's Pittsburgh Eagles Facebook page; click on the images to see the Facebook post)