PHOTOGRAPH BY MICHAEL MELFORD, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC
Published March 6, 2014
Forty years ago the bald eagle was in danger of extinction throughout North America, but today the iconic U.S. emblem is an environmental success story. In addition, a handful of these rebounding raptors have become Internet celebrities, appearing on live streaming webcams across the country that allow anyone an up-close look into their giant nests.
The 2014 nesting season is at its peak, so now is the perfect time to watch eaglets hatch in the more northern regions and to see young eagles in the south test their wings on their first flights.
The adult birds often return to the same nests year after year, and lay up to three eggs, which hatch after about five weeks. Adults care for the growing eaglets for several months until the young take their first flight. Fledglings stay in or near the nest for an additional month or so.
Do Eagle Cams Help Eagles?
Some cameras have been set up by scientists for research and provide detailed data about the nesting behavior.
"What we're looking for are behavioral cycles: when and how long do the birds incubate, how long the incubation period is before hatching of chicks, what prey or other food items are being brought in to the chicks, how long before fledging [when chicks leave the nest], and what predators may take the eggs or young from nests," said Geoff LeBaron of the National Audubon Society. But LeBaron admits that public engagement may be even more important.
"All this information is well known by scientists for the birds of prey in general. Most of the value is entertainment and engagement with the public," he said.
While the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service doesn't officially encourage or discourage the use of eagle nest cams, they see the broader benefit of people engaging with nature, even via their computers.
"Certainly there's conservation value in overall awareness and people caring about eagles and subsequently the rest of the world," says Drew Becker, an eagle biologist at the Fish and Wildlife Service's Rock Island Field Office in Illinois. "Eagle cams and nest cams in general have just exploded in recent years."
And these windows into eagle life are helping the great outdoors reach people indoors. "A lot of folks who are interested in these cameras are maybe not the audience that we're typically reaching through hunting or coming to refuges or parks," Becker said.
Fall and Rise of Eagle Populations
With a natural range stretching from the Arctic to the Gulf of Mexico, the bald eagle beat out the wild turkey to become the U.S. national emblem in the 18th century, when there may have been as many as 100,000 nesting birds.
A decline in prey in the 19th century shrank their numbers. They also faced direct pressure from humans, who killed them for sport and to protect farm animals and livestock from being eaten. Alaska actively encouraged hunting in the first half of the 20th century, paying 128,000 bounties of 50 cents to two dollars per dead eagle.
By 1940 the eagle population was in dire shape and the birds received their first federal protection, the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.
The years after World War II brought another challenge with the use of DDT, which has long been thought to weaken the shells of bald eagle eggs. Some experts now say the damage done to bald eagle populations by DDT may have been less drastic than previously believed since their numbers were already dangerously depleted.
In 1963 bald eagles hit their low point of 487 nesting pairs in the continental United States, but since then their numbers have rebounded to nearly 10,000 nesting pairs. As of 2007, they no longer needed statutory protection, and the species was removed from the list of threatened species safeguarded by the Endangered Species Act.
Despite the healthy numbers at the turn of the 21st century and the 2007 delisting, bald eagles are still protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and the Lacey Act.
Conservationists hope the interest that these popular webcams generate for bald eagles will help them continue to thrive.
"There are people who become as fanatic about the wildlife cams as they might about soap operas or other TV events," said the Audubon Society's LeBaron.
That's good for the birds in the eyes of the Fish and Wildlife Service's Becker, who believes the connection people feel to bald eagles helps motivate the public to get behind broader conservation efforts.
"People really could wrap their heads around why we need to preserve eagles. It's a good nexus to get people to care about the system as a whole," Becker explained. "I don't believe they would have recovered as quickly as they did if people didn't care."
Follow Brad Scriber on Twitter.
The baby finally left her nest. I bet she has gone fishing for breakfast.What a sweetheart she has been to watch!
1:43 PM EDT, 4/30/14. It looks like the Berry "college" student came back home for a visit. Perhaps the student needed money, a furnished room, or perhaps a meal?
To slightly change a phrase......"Rome (GA), Tranquility Base here, the Eagle has flown."
I hope Berry College shows archived footage of the final wing exercises and the first flight.
My class has been watching for awhile and we did not get to see the the first flight at "kitty hawk".....or eagle.
The little eaglet must have flown away as Berry College is not broadcasting. It is off the the air. I probably missed the great new beginnings. I have been watchhing this little bird for two months. Anybody know?
Here is another nest-cam to follow. I'm always amazed viewing these magnificent birds!
California 4/17/14, 9:30 AM EDT. Mom & Dad at nest fixing it up.....redecorating the kids room. Maybe they are going to try again. Lets hope.
Love watching. Glad to see the three babies in Iowa. Such a wonderful display of parenting! Berry eaglet seems to be growing. Can't wait to see how he/she does!
Glad to see that all 3 Iowa babies hatched..saw parent feeding the little ones..and caught a quick glimpse of the 3rd baby yesterday..so tiny..hope they all make it.
The Georgia baby is getting big..yesterday parent brought a branch to add to the nest and of course they smacked the baby a few times..after getting branch settled in place the one parent left and baby proceeded to move the branch..lol..was so funny.
So relaxing to watch the eagles, quite mesmerizing. The Iowa bunch is adorable and I love mom and dad tag team. Working together seems second nature.
I've come to the conclusion..maybe I need an eagle husband, lol.
I am so glad to see the bald eagles thriving in Southwest Ohio. I just wish we had a WebCam set up on the Whitewater River nest.
Yes Debbie, its a ranch type atmosphere, but yes there is a buffer of 660 Ft. around the nest, they are protected.
i didn't understand the toxic conversation..,just came on to read about the Iowa little ones that just hatched. I thought I had seen 3 eggs...does anyone have any news about the 3rd egg? They are just so cute!
I meant when they leave the nest for the summer, to use Holistic products only, never meant anything toxic! Don't believe in chemicals. We have eagles in our back yard in FL and they leave for the summer. By the way YOU sound toxic!
Save the Toxic bug spray for yourself Arlene and leave the eagles and nest alone.
GO FLORIDA EAGLE!!!
The Florida eaglet just left the nest , like I said earlier go to Southwest eagle cam#2 the camera iS following him on the ground,VERY EXCITING!
Thanks for that info Arlene. I thought he was actually flying away and returning. lol No wonder he has not left the nest yet.
He has never left the nest yet. The link your watching does not show the approach camera, he has been on a branch next to the nest, google Southwest eagle cam and look at camera #2 , it will show you that he is still in the tree, has never left, so keep watching cause he's about to go any day now.
Saw Fort Myers baby come back to the nest today for a moment. Was sitting on a branch just to the left of the picture. Saw his wings flapping at the edge of the shot then he hopped on the nest.
When this eaglet finally leaves his nest, someone should surely spray it for bugs, it is infested! The poor thing is twitching all night long from all the crawling bugs!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I'm talking about the FT. Meyers nest
I don't know when I've had such a laugh! The Berry Eagle - Dad I think it is - just brought home a nice big branch - with a fork in it. He has knocked the eaglet around two or three times, the baby has bit back at him that much or more - and the limb is still not in a place the parent that satisfies the parent. If the eaglet gets knocked out of the nest we'll all know what happened!!
@Brant McCanless I too missed the first flight and/or final wing exercises at Berry College. My father passed away and this must have happened when I was out of town attending my father's funeral and dealing with all his personal things/estate etc... I would LOVE to see any of the archived footage if there are any.
@Galeigh Parkin I wonder what's going on too. I missed all this as I too have been watching the little eaglet B3 ever since it hatched and I missed it's first flight etc... Must have happened while I was out of town attending my father's funeral because when I checked back into the site all was gone. I'm really sad. Was hoping I would see B3 fly away. I would have LOVED to see all the excitement that this lil B3 has going on.
@Tiffany Mecom 3 at Decorah - one small one tends to lie behind one or both of the larger two. At first I feared it wouldn't be fed enough to survive, but the parent seems to always search it out to feed it before stopping. :-)
@Debbie Smith third egg has not hatched egg still in nest hard to see egg with eaglets next to it
@Arlene Annonio can you reach those nests near your home? I like it that they are protected ...
@Nadine Francis Still on fledge watch. Any day now.
@Margie Reeves b3 is getting really big, 5 weeks old today, it has been an amazing experience watching it grow up, trying not to get too attached!!
@J Waits I saw this too, he is quite the nest builder, always busy moving the furniture around. Now when he flies in with those sticks B3 flinches and tries to move away from him as fast as he can. You can only take so many hits to the head!!
How to Feed Our Growing Planet
National Geographic explores how we can feed the growing population without overwhelming the planet in our food series.
The Innovators Project
Meet some of science's most important movers and shakers—from past and present.
Latest News Video
During a recent voyage along South America's eastern coast, Justin Hofman was surprised to get close-up footage of an unfazed mother whale and her newborn calf.