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NCTC EagleCam shows growth of eaglets this spring

By Bob Madison - For the Chronicle | Apr 2, 2021

The mother eagle protects her eaglets from predators in her nest on Shepherd Grade Road Tuesday evening. Courtesy photo

SHEPHERDSTOWN — Two of them this year. Grayish in color and appearing to be covered in fuzz. Being raised high above the rolling hills in a gnarled sycamore tree are a pair of eaglets about 18-20 days old today.

You can see them and get attuned to their sometimes comical antics, from right in the comfort of your home. The eaglets live in an aerie out on the Shepherd Grade Road at the National Conservation Training Center, and those interested can keep tabs on them, thanks to a device known as an EagleCam. The camera is in place at nest level and stays on 24 hours-a-day. It quietly watches as the eaglets’ parents patiently care for them and their ravenous appetites.

They are not ballet dancers or deftly coordinated athletes. They are now slightly clumsy and at times appear to have stumbled upon mom’s or pop’s stash of alcoholic drinks. They tend to stagger as their short, stubby wings dangle to the side, trying to stabilize any movements.

The nest seems to be a jumble of parts gleaned from what nature alone has provided the parents. Large sticks, long grasses, a few loose tree leaves, smaller twigs, mud, longer dead weeds and a little parental ingenuity have created their “home,” which may weigh over 200 pounds.

Located high off of the ground, the nest and its live contents can be seen at https://fws.gov/nctc/cam/.

The parents — usually the mother — feed the eaglets several times during the daylight hours. Fish caught and brought to the nest by the father are the main staple of the diet. Strewn throughout the nest are fish that will serve as a meal in the not-too-distant future.

Spring breezes (sometimes downright disruptive winds) and showers are always companions for the eagles. The parent in the nest at the time will attempt to position the two little ones in a low spot where the adult can cover the eaglets and keep them from impending harm.

Last year, when there was but one eaglet, the nest had seen at least one turtle, a muskrat, large and small fish from the nearby Potomac River and pigeons as food for the fast-growing youngster of 2020.

The young are born about a day apart if there is more than one fertilized egg that hatches.

At night, the female almost always broods the babies.

The bald eagles out off the Shepherd Grade Road will remain a chocolate brown color for about five years, before they develop the iconic white feathered heads and tinges of white at the ends of their feathers.

This nest has been in the upper reaches of the sycamore tree for many years now, and has been added to every year.

As the days and weeks pass by, the tree gets its leaves and the terrain below it becomes a green melange of bushes, shrubs, small cedar trees, a narrow paved road and several buildings madly crying out for paint.

These parents return to this particular nest every year. If nothing untoward happens to either of them, they will mate for life.

Catch the little ones while they are still a bit comical and tended-to by doting parents. Soon enough, they will be balancing better in the nest and moving their wings, as if testing their wings for the day they will be able to fly away from Shepherd Grade Road.