Horan Eagles Third Year
Written by Julanne Burts, photos by Julanne of this year’s eagles

The Horan eagles have produced another pair of offspring this year. Watching these amazing birds raise their young has been a privilege. With better equipment, I was able to get more detail while staying outside the family’s personal space. They successfully raised 2 eaglets this year. Last year they raised three and the year before that they raised one.

Once the eggs were laid in early spring, the parents took turns incubating them. While one parent kept the eggs warm, the other would be out hunting. Sometimes, the sitting parent was treated to a catered meal from their partner. Other times, they would just switch positions. Dad would take off for a snack while Mom did the sitting and vice a versa. The switch out often involved a little bird necking and a careful inspection of the eggs. While this year was windier than most, the parents stoically endured the swaying nest by hunkering down. Despite the motion, they continued to keep the eggs warm night and day.

In the late spring the parent’s behavior changed. They were more careful when they landed and took more care settling on the nest. Were their hatchlings in the nest? If so, how many? Watching the parents it soon became apparent that they were feeding young. Both parents would carefully carve up their catch. But with the eaglets secured in the deepest part of the nest, I could not see the young birds.

This year, there was a more varied diet. In addition to usual fish, the parents brought back a snow goose, a duck, and something furry but unidentified.

Eagle parents are territorial and we witnessed them drive off juvenile eagles from the nesting area. While observing mom and the babies in the nest, dad zoomed by on a high speed intercept mission. He quickly drove off a yearling from the nest area. Young eagles are also victim to hawks and owls and osprey. The parents watched over the nest carefully until this year’s brood was big enough to take care of themselves.

Young eagles have a social life just like other animals. They squabble as they work out who is the dominant and who is the submissive nest-mate. These contests of will develop skills they will need after they leave the nest. An example of this behavior is called “the dance” by eagle experts. I was able to witness this ritual at about three months old. Mom had just delivered a fish to the nest and the two juniors squared off face to face. With their wings fully spread and standing as tall as possible, the two circled the nest. Each was trying to gain the initiative and get the first feeding. This contest lasted for a few minutes until the male backed down and gave his larger and older sister the first share.

In a behavior called “mantling ,” the sister spread her wings to protect her dinner. When she was done, there was so little left that the other bird ignored the remains. But it wasn’t long before more food arrived and the hungrier bird was able to claim this delivery since sister was already full.

As I write this in late October, mom and dad are back in the park periodically. Just keeping an eye on their territory. Later this winter they will begin adding to their nest. This is a bonding behavior and eagles, who pair up for life, will add to their nest each year. Over time, the nest may become so large and heavy that it breaks down the tree supporting it. When this happens, the couple will find another tree and start over again. Eagle researchers in Decorah Iowa have been studying a pair of eagles for several years. Their current nest is eight feet by twelve feet and weighs an estimated two thousand pounds, with some nests weighing up to 6,000 pounds.

I would like to thank everyone who has encouraged me in my mildly obsessive hobby. I appreciate the positive comments on my Facebook page and from people in the park. I look forward to sharing these amazing birds again, next year.

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