June 28, 2012 —
As those of you who didn’t travel to warmer climes for the winter realize, we experienced an overall mild winter, with above-normal temperatures and minimal ice cover on rivers and lakes. Indeed, during the 2012 annual Mid-Winter Bald Eagle Survey for New York State, there was no ice recorded on the river during the week of January 10, which is the usual target date for the survey. No ice on the river has only been recorded for a handful of times of the 34 years that New York has been participating in the survey.
So how did the weather affect our area bald eagles and their breeding efforts? Well, egg laying, or incubation, started earlier for a few nests. A couple of nests had eggs present right at the end of February, which is slightly early for the area. However, a few miles upstream of one of these early river nests is another pair of breeding eagles that started three weeks later. In one nest, there was a loss of an eaglet; the cause of the loss is unknown, but the eaglet was not seen after a sharp cold front preceded with a lot of rain. Eaglets do not become endothermic (able to regulate their own body temperature) until about two weeks of age, and the down-covered eaglet may have succumbed to hypothermia from being wet, then cold despite the brooding efforts of the parents.
On a brighter note, three nests that had failed (no young hatched) last year have one or more young this year, and are progressing well as the young grow to full size. As you read this, many eagle territories have fledged young that are being watched and trained by parents as they learn to hunt and survive in the wild. If you see one of these youngsters on the ground, give it some space and just watch; fledgling eagles spend a lot of time on the ground, especially near shorelines, and it may be just catching its breath from its first solo flight from the nest 90 feet up in the air.