In the 1980s there were but three bald eagle nests in Pennsylvania, all far to the west near the border with Ohio. It wasn’t just in Pennsylvania that eagle nests were few and far between, they were in trouble throughout their range with the exception of Alaska and Canada’s Pacific coast. While shooting and habitat loss contributed to the eagle’s decline, the primary cause was the widespread use of DDT which caused their eggshells to be so thin they broke beneath the incubating bird.
The use of DDT has been curtailed and there were major efforts to reintroduce bald eagles. In the intervening years the number of bald eagle nests in Pennsylvania has gone from three to over 300. One of those nests is on a steep hillside above the north branch of the Susquehanna River and adjacent to a heavily-traveled highway. The nest has been there since at least 2016, at eye level when standing along the roadway.
This year there had been two eggs and then two young birds in this nest, but one either died or was pushed out of the nest by its sibling. I first photographed the eagles at the nest in mid-April when the remaining chick was about three weeks old –
In mid-May I returned to photograph the birds. It was a hot and sunny day, the eaglet was sheltering in the shade of a large limb and panting to keep cool –
With eaglets of this age the parents spend much of their time elsewhere, returning only to feed the young. I’d been squeezed between the road’s guide-rail and the steep drop-off for about 45 minutes when the adult female swept in with food for the young one –
She stayed for less than five minutes before departing. The young eagle then spent some time moving around the nest and at one point balanced precariously on the edge before settling down and surveying its world –
While adult bald eagles can be said to look regal, that’s not a good description of the young one – especially when it expels a pellet of indigestible material (as do all raptors) –
Shortly afterwards it began to exercise its wings with much flapping, a necessity to build the muscles used in flight –
That done the eaglet proceeded to preen it’s new feathers –
Next came a hike around the nest during which it rearranged some of the nest’s structure and furnishings –
And more wing exercises and flapping –
All that activity on a hot day must have been pretty tiring, so the eaglet settled down, panting and spreading its wings to dissipate heat –
Suddenly the eaglet lay down flat in the nest, looking skyward –
The alarm was apparently caused by two turkey vultures riding the breeze along the steep sidehill. The vultures soon rode the breeze downstream and out of sight. But still the young eagle lay flat, looking up. So I too looked up and saw nothing for quite some time – until my merely human eyes picked up a dot high in the sky. The camera’s telephoto lens revealed the dot to be a third-year bald eagle soaring on a thermal (a rising column of warm air) –
By now the nest was in deep shadow while the far side of the valley was in bright sunlight so the opportunities for photography were very poor. I’d been there for about two hours and it was time to pack up; I put the good camera in its pack and had the pack on my back before glancing at the nest once again – just as the adult female swept in again, bringing more food for her eaglet –
Time to leave and head south. About fourteen miles away as the eagle flies, but much further by road I stopped to photograph another eagle nest – this one on a smaller creek and much further from the road, and not on the official inventory of eagle nests in the state. One adult was in the nest, as was at least one eaglet, while the other adult perched above them –
The eaglet in this nest appears to be somewhat younger than the first one pictured in this post –
In February 2020 I photographed a common raven taking an egg from this eagle nest while both adults were occupied with driving an immature from their territory –
Onward says I, and so back on the road and past yet another bald eagle nest, this one in a huge sycamore and almost obscured by the new spring foliage on adjacent trees –
That foliage is a portent of things to come and the rapidly diminishing chance of getting good photos of these nests’ new generation of bald eagles.