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Eaglet gets first meal

By Staff | Jan 26, 2016

Just as Harriet was late laying her eggs, “E7” was a little late breaking out of its egg, about two days late to be exact.

But like the layings, the hatching was worth the wait as E7 came into the world just after sunrise Tuesday morning, with its sibling not too far behind as there was evidence of a pip in E8’s egg.

More than 6,000 viewers watched the moment happen online Tuesday morning, with most of them sticking around to see if the second eaglet would also hatch.

Early in the afternoon a classroom at a school in Kansas was watching the newborn eaglet and had questions for the moderator as to why the adults continued to lay on the egg and eaglet.

The answer: The egg still needed warmth to hatch, and second, the eaglet won’t be able to regulate its own body temperature for another two weeks when a new layer of down grows.

Michelle Van Deventer, biological scientist for the Florida Wildlife Commission, said the natal down is replaced by the thermal down at that point and the parents don’t have to sit on them so much. Until then, the eagles do something interesting.

“They pluck a brood patch on their lower abdomen when they lay eggs. They’ll put that against the young and gingerly keep them regulated,” Van Deventer said. “There’s more direct heat and can tell if they’re maintaining that temperature.”

Meanwhile, E8 appeared on the verge of popping out at around 3 p.m. The Pritchett Eagle Cam took a close-up view of the eaglet as M15 got up for a moment. It appeared as if there was evidence of a pip in the egg.

Van Deventer said that while the eggs may hatch a day or two apart, they tend to have asynchronous hatchings, unlike other birds where the eggs hatch at the same time.

“Embryo development begins at egg laying for eagles. Some birds do not start embryonic development until the eggs are laid, which is called precocial birth.

“Those birds are not being fed by the adults, so they forage for food on their own. In order to keep up with the toddlers, they hatch at the same time,” Van Deventer said. “The young for eagles are altricial, which means they have to be fed and are not thermal regulatory.”

The first feeding of the eaglet came just before 4 p.m. as Harriet did the honors with pieces of fish that laid on the side of the nest before resuming her incubation duties.

It has certainly been a crazy few months for Harriet and M15. Harriet’s first mate, Ozzie returned, but was injured after an alleged fight with the new suitor in September.

Harriet usually laid her eggs around Thanksgiving, but with M15, she didn’t lay her first egg until late afternoon on Dec. 19, with the second coming three days later.

Van Deventer said she was worried about many of the eagle nests with all the extreme weather southwest Florida has been having. Some of them fell as they were in dead trees.

“They like to nest in native pines that have evolved to deal with the crazy weather,” Van Deventer said. “There are also trees that are more exposed that got tough winds. Put the tree (on Bayshore) is in a pine that doesn’t have the sail effect a denser foliated tree would have.”