Lum: Hooked on bald eaglets
I didn’t know that eagles had tongues until I started watching the webcam of the bald eagle babies in Washington, D.C. Up close and personal, these floppy beanbag imitations of birds roll about, open their mouths and pant and stick their ample tongues in and out of their mouths, reportedly to cool themselves down.
The tongues are complicated — they’re barbed to grab food and pull it down into their mouths, plus they have holes, which open to their respiratory system. Their tongues hang out like dogs who have just charged up Buttermilk Mountain.
Mother eagle (aka The First Lady) does her share of panting and tongue work, as well, but mainly sits staring off into space with the stunned, dazed look that twins can give a woman.
For now, the babies are called DC2 and DC3 (dad is Mr. President). I feared for the fate of DC1, but it turned out that that was last year’s single baby, who was raised successfully and went off on his own.
These birds are not confined in any way. Their nest, which is 5 feet wide by 6 feet deep, sits 95 feet high in a tulip poplar tree on land that is protected but unimpeded, except for the two silent cameras running 24/7, lit up at night with an infared light that looks positively garish but that the birds cannot see at all.
Tulip trees grow like Jack’s beanstalk. My mother planted one and in a couple of years it was higher than the house. A good tree for eagles.
There’s a place on the website for questions and chat messages. One message today said, “Looks like DC3 is working on a pellet. The pellets are prey parts that could not be digested (bits of feathers, fur, fish scales, etc.); such items are squeezed into a pellet in the bird’s gizzard and then expelled through the mouth.”
Of course, I could identify with that! It sounded just like the hairballs I have been “expelling” since my transtrach surgery. If I only had a gizzard, the better to grind up those prey parts.
Sure enough, DC3 was over in a corner of the nest retching and hacking and he (she?) had my utmost sympathy.
Speaking of expelling, I saw one of the babies shoot a projectile poop over the side of the nest, proof of the old adage that even birds know not to crap in their own bed. Too bad we can’t say the same for our own kind, not even the adults during political season.
I haven’t seen both parents on the nest at the same time yet. According to the chat messages, every time I turn on the eagles I have just missed something important like a huge feeding. The babies stagger about with their craws extended like chickens on steroids, a fish part lying nearby, but I always miss the knockout punch and all I see of a home run is a guy running and throwing down his bat. One of these days I’ll see a feed.
The babies are a month old and will fly away in six weeks or so. Right now they’re gaining a half pound to a pound every week with their secret feedings. Mama stands by, but she’s not what you’d call affectionate. No cuddles from this lady. One of the kids keeps ripping at his baby feathers as if they were itching him madly, but mom doesn’t offer a preening beak or a wing of sympathy. This girl is not going to suffer from empty nest syndrome; the babies will be lucky if they don’t get a taloned boot over the side. And those are some talons.
I don’t want to give short shrift to our local osprey webcam being streamed locally in Emma, but nothing much has happened there yet. Today I tuned in to find both birds on the nest, and one immediately flew away, soon followed by the other. If there’s an egg, I can’t see it among the sturdy limbs that comprise the nest.
In the Emma shots, you can just barely see the green tinge of spring creeping onto the lawn next door and the beginning budding of the leaves. Zip back to Washington and it’s a verdant biosphere.
This way, we can watch our spring turn to summer while our ospreys turn from bird blobs into noble hawks, which will probably be just about the time the eagles fly away back east.
Su Lum is a longtime local who doesn’t think she’s wasting time if she’s watching eagles. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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