Rosyfinch Ramblings
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April 2009
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Justice falls, and Hope soars
Filed under: General, Birding & Outdoors, Florida & SE US, Bald Eagle Nest
Posted by: Ken @ 12:08 pm

Yesterday, Lou Greenwell, one of the watchers of our local Bald Eagle nest, called me at around 7:40 AM to report that the younger chick, Justice, had just flown off the nest and fallen to the ground. Only two days earlier, Hope, the older eagle, fledged, fell, and disappeared for 36 hours, before suddenly returning the the nest tree.

Lou later provided this description of the events:

Monday, April 6
7:05 am   I arrived and found Justice standing quitely in the nest.  He moved very little for the first 15 minutes. 
7:22 am   Justice began to move about the nest, flexing his wings and was much more animated than I had previously observed.  His demeanor suggested something was about to happen.  I began to roll my video.
7:24 am   Justice finally made his BIG LEAP, and flew about 30 yards into a small pine tree near the power lines.  This first landing was awkward, but he held on.
7:27 am   After a few tense minutes, he secured better footing and flew back to his original tree, about 18 feet directly above the nest.
7:29 am   One parent flew into a nearby pine as the other flew into the nest with a fish.  As the adult ate, Justice watched from above.
7:31 am   The parent looked up, and in a few seconds Justice fell from his perch, right past the nest and landed in the understory below.  I heard vigorous flapping for 3 or 4 seconds.  Then, all was silent.  I was very concerned.  From my vantage point, I could not see Justice.
7:34 am   The parent stopped eating the fish and seemed to be more focused on Justice below.
7:38 am   By now, both parents had perched in separate trees above Justice. 
7:40 am   I called Ken with an update.  Shortly thereafter, Ken and Mary Lou arrived and took over the watch….    It was an exciting experience….Lou

Mary Lou and I joined Lou and Ed Mattis at the nest at about 8:10 AM.We were astonished to learn that Lou had videotaped the entire episode!  A beautifully edited segment is posted on YouTube, and is embedded above, as well as on the “Eagle Nest Watch” page. 

The two adults were standing guard in the two Australian Pines just to the west of the nest, nearest the road. The adults called to each other several times, but we could not hear the chick. I could not reach Eagle Biolofist Brian Mealey, so I called Florida Fish and Wildlife Coservation Commission (FWC) to ask that an agent come by to see if the chick appeared uninjured.

Here is one of the adults, keeping watch over the fallen chick:

Adult Stands Guard 20090406

The adult birds flew away, one at a time, after 15 to 20 minutes. At about 9:25 AM, a fully black immature eagle, certainly Justic’s older sister Hope, flew in northbound from the northwest corner of the Eagle Forest, and veered to the west  over the eastbound lane of Pines Boulevard. At around 209th Avenue, the eagle turned to the left (south), right toward the power lines. She stalled and attempted to land on the top wire, but in less than a second flew off toward the dead Melaleucas.

We found Hope sitting on a Melaleuca snag about 200 feet south of the fence line. An adult Bald Eagle was roosting further back, to her southwest:

Hope In Melaleucas 20090406

Agent Brock (who lives nearby and has observed the nest in his free time) responded at 9:45 and observed Hope. We briefed him, telling him that it appeared that Justice fell towards a point about 10 feet west of the nest tree. He went in and spent an hour searching the general area of the nest, but did not find the eaglet. His arms were pretty well scratched up from the sawgrass. He said that the area to the west of the nest is relatively clear, and it is possible that Justice was able to fly out rather freely. The good news is that if Justice had been injured, he almost certainly would have been found by Agent Brock in the search area.

At 9:55, while Brock was searching the nest site, Hope again appeared from the west, and this time landed at the very top of the Australian Pine to the east of the nest tree, the one commonly used as a roost tree by the adults.

Hope perched on the very small limbs, balancing quite a bit at first, but finally settled down for a quarter of an hour.

Hope In Pine 20090406

Hope then flew off to the west at 10:12, at first heading towards the Melaleucas, but curved back around toward us, gaining altitude. She flew in a spiral right overhead until she was very high. Above her, appearing almost as a speck was an adult Bald Eagle. We finally lost sight of both, off to the southwest.

Hope soars:

Hope Soars 20090406

Brian Mealey returned my call and said that, as with Hope, we should expect Justice to attempt to get back into the nest during the next 48 hours. He asked us to call him if the second eaglet does not appear by then. Later that afternoon, the eagle watchers heard one or both chicks calling loudly, another good sign.

Although it is difficult to expect eagle watchers to sit and look at an empty nest, we should continue covering the nest until Justice returns, or it becomes necessary to conduct another search.  It will also be interesting to document the habits of the youngsters– will they return to the nest for feedings? How long will they keep coming back to the nest or the immediate area before wandering off? Brian said they could linger there for over a month, even after becoming quite independent of their parents.

This afternoon, Hope returned to the nest and was sitting on it, probably waiting to be fed, at 2:25 PM.