Black Eagle Chick In Distress?
If you've been keeping an eye on the Black Eagle cam you may have become a bit concerned as the parents are leaving the chick exposed to the elements more and more. Sometimes he is all alone with his beak open giving the appearance of being completely miserable and afraid, but is he really?
When the eaglet hatched, we watched as the adult female covered the chick almost continuously. As his growing has progressed, we now see him not only alone at times, but looking pitiful with his beak open as if he is panting with heat exhaustion. But never fear, mother nature is much smarter than we give her credit for.
As the young chick gets bigger and stronger the adult female will spend less time on the nest with it as she will assist in hunting with the male. While we see the chick as all alone, in fact the parents are very aware of the safety or threats that are surrounding the nest...more often than not while we cannot see a parent, one is very close.
So there he sits, in the sun, by himself with his mouth open... is he in distress? At first glance it appears so. Seeing him sit with his beak open is normal, as he is doing just what his parents can be seen doing as well, regulating his temperature. We have and will still see the parent stand with wings spread providing shade to protect the chick from the sun until he is able to completely regulate his own temperature.
Now that we've dispelled the thoughts that the chick is looking forlorn and abandoned, lets take a peak at what to expect the next few weeks.
The fluffy down that the chick is covered in has begun to give way to juvenile pin feathers. Within the next month the plumage will fully appear and the chick will be a beautiful golden brown. This new coat is referred to as juvenile plumage. The young bird will stay this color for approximately 5 -7 years when it will become sexually mature and then get the black and white plumage of an adult black eagle.
At approximately two months old, the research team will place a metal ring on the chicks tarsus (part of the eagles leg, just above the foot), tag the wing (patagial tag), take a small amount of blood for sexing and a feather for DNA. A metal ring with a number is placed on the tarsus in case the bird is captured or dies and the carcass is recovered, this data can then be traced. The patagial tag is placed through the lose skin on the patagium on the shoulder of the bird. This tag also has a number and is used for sightings in the field. Blood is taken for correct sexing and the balance is stored at the blood bank for DNA. Feathers are used for tissue typing e.g. DNA. All this information is stored at the Wildlife blood and DNA bank and can then be used for follow up research.
At the same time that all the tagging and information is being gathered, the chick will be nearly as large as the adults. We will see the bird start to do wing exercises, usually during the early morning and late afternoon hours when it is cooler. This strengthens the wing and shoulder muscles for flying. The bird will fledge from the nest at 90-100 days, somewhere around the beginning of September. Once the juvenile has fledged it will perfect its flying and hunting skills within the natal area with the adults still providing prey for it.
So settle back in front of the eagle cam and worry no more. The little chick appears healthy and strong, and while only mother nature knows what the future holds, for now everything is going as it should up on that steep cliff in Africa. Hmm... how do they get to the bird to do all this tagging and research? That's another story... stay tuned!