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Hays eagles chat transcript: March 27, 2014

| Thursday, March 27, 2014, 2:54 p.m.
A male bald eagle keeps watch over a nest filled with eggs in the trees above East Carson Street in Hays on Thursday, March 27, 2014. The eggs were thought to be ready to hatch as of yesterday.
James Knox | Tribune-Review
A male bald eagle keeps watch over a nest filled with eggs in the trees above East Carson Street in Hays on Thursday, March 27, 2014. The eggs were thought to be ready to hatch as of yesterday.

Trib Total Media: Thanks for joining us today. We're with Brian, Rachel and Jim here at Audubon Society of Western Pa. headquarters, and we're going to start answering any questions you have about the eagles, so ask away!

Leigh Ann Licata: What color will the eaglets be?

Audubon Society of WPa.: The eaglet will be wet when it first emerges, but will dry fairly quickly. The eaglet will be a light gray color and will appear very fuzzy. Its eyes will be brown, skin, legs and lining of its beak will be pink.

jeri: I would like to know which eagle is the male vs female I can see a difference between them.thank you for all your efforts and thank you for Pix controller!

Audubon Society of WPa.: The female eagle is about 20% larger than the male. You can easily see the difference when they are both present at the nest.

Vira Mason: Since the first egg was due to hatch on or around the 26th and it hasn't as of yet, does that mean the first egg might not necessarily hatch at all?

Audubon Society of WPa.: Unfortunately, it is impossible to suggest whether any of the eggs are infertile. 35 days is the statistical average for the incubation process. However a day or two in either direction is perfectly normal. Just like human babies (who never seem to arrive on the due date), the eaglet will begin its hatch when it is ready.

Tracie: Where is daddy and what is his role in the egg hatching process?

Audubon Society of WPa.: The male eagle has been taking turns incubating, though the female certainly spends more time at the nest. He hunts for food and occasionally brings food to the female. After the eggs hatch, the male will become much busier. Typically, the female stays at the nest to protect and feed the babies for the first week or more. The male is the one normally responsible for catching and providing food to the nest. Of course, they take turns during this process, but expect to see the male bring food more often.

bird is the word: How long until the second and third eggs hatch?

Audubon Society of WPa.: The second egg is due to hatch around March 30th and the third around April 2nd. Again, these dates are based on the average 35-day incubation period.

Anne P: At what age do the head and tail feathers turn white?

Audubon Society of WPa.: Mature plumage (referred to as the definitive plumage) is acquired after several annual molts. An eagle will be approximately 5 years old when it finally reaches its iconic plumage.

Jenny: How soon will the eaglet need to eat after it is hatched?

Audubon Society of WPa.: The eaglet will be fed within a day after it hatches. They are almost completely immobile at first and contain nutrients from the egg. But the adults will feed as soon as the eaglet is able.

Rebecca: What will they eat & when will the eaglets begin feeding? Will both parents feed them?

Audubon Society of WPa.: The chicks will eat pretty much the same food that the adults eat. fish and mammals will brought to the nest. Small bits will be broken off and fed to them.

MJ: How long will they stay in the nest

Audubon Society of WPa.: The eaglets will remain in the nest for approximately 8 weeks after they hatch. They grow fast, but must grow their flight feathers before they leave. This process take some time. From there the eaglets will remain near the nest for a few months. But most will leave that area shortly after that.

Guest: Any signs of pipping yet?

Audubon Society of WPa.: We have seen what appeared to be a pip many times in the past couple of days. There is obviously a lot of debris in the nest – dirty grasses, fragments of leaves, etc. These debris stick to the eggs occasionally and can appear to be a hole or fracture. The details are very difficult to discern on the video and on the screen grabs. While the pipping process could have started, we prefer to wait until we see conclusive evidence before making any call.

MJ: Once it starts to hatch how long will it take.

Audubon Society of WPa.: We may not know when the eaglets are hatching because the adults will continue to incubate the remaining eggs. When it is ready to hatch, the eaglet will pip the egg and emerge typically without assistance from parents. Pipping is when the chick starts to break through the shell. It will be very hard to know when this starts because the adult will continue to incubate the eggs, covering them from our view. This can take up to one day. Before they actually break through the main shell, they break through an inner membrane and it is possible to hear the chick from outside the egg.

k.m: will they stay in pittsburgh afterwards or fly elsewhere

Audubon Society of WPa.: We expect the adults to stay in Pittsburgh year-round. Eaglets often will leave the area a few months after fledging. They disperse widely.

Pam from Ohio: Do eagles (birds in general) recognize their mate by sight or smell?

Audubon Society of WPa.: Eagles recognize their mates by sight and sound.

Mrs Youngs 5th grade class David Leech Elementary: What happens if the eggs don't hatch?

Audubon Society of WPa.: It's not unusual for some eggs not to hatch. In these cases, the parents will discard the non-developing egg. An egg may not hatch for several reasons; it may not have developed correctly or may have been infertile from the start.

Pam: Do the eagles lay on the hatched bird as well as the unhatched eggs?

Audubon Society of WPa.: After the eggs have hatched, it may appear as though the adults are still incubating. Actually, this process is called “brooding”. The young have emerged from the eggs with very little protection from the elements. The light gray down of the young is not enough to insulate from temperatures, or protect from rain/snow. Therefore, the adults will brood the young for the first few weeks of their lives.

Anne P: I imagine Mom and Dad have to teach the young ones how to fish or capture food after they leave the nest. How do they do this? How long does it take the kids to learn this?

Audubon Society of WPa.: Actually, eaglets learn to hunt more by trial and error than by learning from their parents. But the adults continue to offer food while the young are near the nest. They learn quickly and are on their own after only a few months!

Kathy M: If only seeing one eagle in the nest at night, where would the other eagle be?

Audubon Society of WPa.: The other eagle is nearby. At night the birds do not fly because they cannot see well. Eagles, unlike owls, are not adapted to flying at night.

Sharri T: How many years do they live for?

Audubon Society of WPa.: Bald eagles live for about 20 years in the wild. Some birds in captivity have lived over 40 years.

Sandra: What will the mother do when the eaglets begin to hatch? Will she stand back and watch?

Audubon Society of WPa.: The adults will actually continue to incubate as the eggs hatch. This is to ensure the other eggs continue to develop, but it also keeps the newly hatched eaglet warm and dry.

Susie J: Does the mother eagle feel the baby tapping on the egg notifying her that it's trying to emerge from the egg?

Audubon Society of WPa.: The young can hear their parents from inside the egg. It is the beginning stages of the “critical learning period” during which they learn what their parents sound like, and what they should sound like when they are older. They will then go through a “subsong period” when they practice what they've heard, and will then finalize their sounds through the “song crystallization” period where they perfect and organize their sounds into the correct pattern and timing.

Pam from Ohio: My birthday is the 30th and this is the best present I ever had...front row watching and eagle hatch! Will you name the eaglets?

Audubon Society of WPa.: Happy birthday, Pam! WOO HOO!

Barb: Will the same pair come back to this same nest next year?

Audubon Society of WPa.: The Hays pair rebuilt this past year because their nest collapsed last year. Eagles will typically continue to add to the nest each year. The eagles in Harmar are in the same nest as they were last year.

Cathleen: Do the parents stay in contact with the eaglets? Also, do they stay in this area or will they move?

Audubon Society of WPa.: Once the eaglets leave the area, there will be no contact between them and the parents. Research has shown that most eaglets disperse at great distances from their natal site. If an eaglet overstays its welcome, the adults will actually drive them away from the nest area at some point.

Judie Stodolak: I am so impressed by how devoted they are to each other. I was told eagles mate for life. True?

Audubon Society of WPa.: Eagles will stay pair bonded. Should something happen to one of them, the other will repair with another eagle.

Emma.Y: I am a homeschooled 2nd grader. I was wondering if the eagles mate for life.

Audubon Society of WPa.: Hi Emma! Yes, the pairs do bond for life.

PJ: Speaking of Harmar, do we know if they have eggs?

Audubon Society of WPa.: The Harmar eagles appear to have at least one egg, based on their behavior. One bird is at the nest most of the time, which is indicative of an egg being present.

Jim: How long will this couple reproduce?

Audubon Society of WPa.: Most wild birds will be reproductive their entire lifespan. There can be decreased viability of the eggs as the parents get older.

Audubon Society of WPa.: Any other students out there with questions? Anyone at school right now who is participating in the chat?

Stefanie: At what age do immature eagles begin to mate and breed?

Audubon Society of WPa.: Eagles require several years to become sexually mature. Typically, they will be approximately 5 years old when they begin to breed. They are capable of breeding at a younger age, but fertility drops significantly.

Kathleen L.: Is there a chance that other bald eagle pairs will want to nest in Hays or Harmar? If so, will the established pairs tolerate new neighbors?

Audubon Society of WPa.: The proximity of additional birds is usually based on food supply. It's doubtful that eagles will nest very close to the existing nests but there is a good chance that additional birds will take up residency along our rivers. In addition to food, a suitable tree (large enough to handle the weight of the nest) must be available.

DR: Do both eagles sleep in the nest at the same time?

Audubon Society of WPa.: No, in fact most birds use the nest only for incubation. They are not a sleeping location.

Gene: How can the eaglets stand up to mom sitting on them or is there a gap that her feet creates?

Audubon Society of WPa.: The eagles are making contact with the eggs with their breast, but are very careful not to make contact with the eggs with their talons. You may notice them curling their talons while walking near the eggs. The amount of weight applied to the eggs is not too much for the egg to withstand, assuming the eggshell thickness is sufficient. After hatch, the eagles will continue to “brood” the babies. Again, the eagles may apply a tiny bit of pressure, but the eaglets are actually contained in a space between the adult and the nest.

Pam: When do they usually pair up

Audubon Society of WPa.: Because they tend to be here year-round, we don't think of them as “pairing up” as much as becoming focused on nesting and raising young. The “get to you know” phase is between 3-4 years, and they begin to lay eggs around 5 years of age.

Jeannie: How will we know when the hatching is beginning?

Audubon Society of WPa.: Hi Jeannie, the start of hatching is hard to see. Plus the parent will still be incubating the other eggs when pipping begins. Please scroll up to see our answer about what happens during pipping and hatching.

Stefanie: When we see the camera zooming out or panning around the area, is a human doing that remotely?

Audubon Society of WPa.: Our friends at Pix Controller are able to pan and zoom the camera from their offices.

Guest: How long after the hatching will an eaglet try its first flight?

Audubon Society of WPa.: It will take about 8 weeks.

Audubon Society of WPa.: Fun fact: Nests are refurbished each spring before the eggs are laid, but other material may be added after eggs are laid and even when the chicks are still in the nest. Nests therefore grow through the years. Most nests are about 4 feet wide and 3 feet or more deep. Unlikely many birds, eagle's nests are often flat at the top — not containing the typical “cup” shape. Nests can get so large that they often bring down the tree they are built in — a record nest made it to 12 feet wide and 15 feet tall and weighed over 2,000 pounds!

Roy from Swissvale: Mom is rotating eggs quite often today - just rotated eggs again. This is unusual behavior. Think she is hearing eaglet - think PIP has started??

Audubon Society of WPa.: We have not seen any concrete evidence of a pip, but are aware that comments are being made. The behavior could be associated with sounds being heard from inside the egg, but as you can imagine, it is impossible to know for sure. We anxiously await seeing an eaglet!

Pam: As amazing as nature would be a thrill to see the pair in action souring through the sky and finding food...what time of day do they usually catch their prey and has any one caught that on video yet!?

Audubon Society of WPa.: The eagles will go after prey anytime during the daylight hours. Most birds of prey are not terribly active first thing in the morning. We've seen them bringing fish into the nest at Hays.

Sandy: How do they keep the nest clean after all the chicks hatch?

Audubon Society of WPa.: Bald eagle nests can actually become a bit messy after the young have been present for some time. Fragments of eggs typically remain, uneaten pieces of food remain, etc. Most of this is swept under the grasses that line the nest, but some will remain at the surface.

MJ: Will the camera feed stay on after they hatch?

Audubon Society of WPa.: Yes, the camera will continue to run as long as eagles are in the nest.

k: how old do you think these eagles are

Audubon Society of WPa.: We believe that the Hays eagles are at least 6 years of age. It is hard to know, but they are mature, so they're at least 5 years old. Their first nesting attempt was last year, so we are guessing their age to be around 6. For the Harmar eagles, we've been able to watch one of the eagles gain its full adult plumage, so we believe that eagle is right around 5 years of age.

Ben F: Will Golden Eagles nest here too?

Audubon Society of WPa.: Golden Eagles do not breed in Pennsylvania. They are a northern and western species.

pretty birds: Will they be named?

Audubon Society of WPa.: Call us superstitious, but we don't want to name the eaglets before they fledge. Perhaps around the 4th of July will be a great time to kick off a naming campaign!

Sam: They seem more restless than usual today. Do they know the hatching is near?

Audubon Society of WPa.: The eagles probably receive signals, such as hearing the eaglet chirping inside the egg. They know more than we will ever begin to guess, but the behavior has certainly changed a bit in the past two days.

PJ: Are the eagles an endangered species?

Audubon Society of WPa.: Not any longer! They were recently downlisted in PA, they are a great success story of the Environmental Protection Act.

Emma Y. — 2nd grader: How long will you follow the eagle family after they have hatched? Will we be able to watch the eaglets as they grow and mature from this same camera?

Audubon Society of WPa.: The camera feed will remain on during the entire process. You will be able to watch the eaglets grow until they leave the nest. Enjoy!

Audubon Society of WPa.: One more question today ...

tracie: How big are they?

Audubon Society of WPa.: Bald eagles are one of the largest birds in North America. They weigh 8-10 pounds, and measure between 26 and 32 inches from beak to tail. Their wingspan is a massive 80 inches!

Stefanie: I think I speak for everyone when I say thank you so much for setting up this camera, monitoring the birds, and providing us with communications like today. I'm a self-proclaimed “bird nerd” and have told all my friends and family to watch! It's been such a highlight for me and I'm very grateful!

Audubon Society of WPa.: Thanks to everyone for joining our chat! Special thanks to PixController and the PA Game Commission for installing and running the Bald Eagle Camera.

Please join us for The Great Pittsburgh Eagle Egg Hunt on April 12th at Audubon's Beechwood Farms Nature Reserve in Fox Chapel. For those interested in learning more about the hatching process, we will have chicken eggs at the event. We will candle eggs at various stages of development so you can see how the embryos develop. There should even be a few birds hatching so you will be able to see the pipping and hatching process.

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