The rise in popularity of live streaming bald eagle nest cameras has revealed the diversity of personalities and behaviors of the U.S. national symbol.
“Wildlife web cams have been a godsend for so many people through this past year as everyone was spent months shut inside, Bald Eagle cams were among the most popular across the country. And it’s easy to understand why, it’s our national emblem,” says
David Wheeler, from the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey.
“We’ve observed so much and learned a lot more about their behaviors, so even as recently as a decade ago, there were still certain preconceived notions about eagles. Well, where they choose to nest, certain behaviors they might have, that we’ve since seen that, well, eagles are individuals. And so it’s not a one size fits all. There’s certain behaviors that many eagles do, but some individuals might not. And there’s been no better way that we could imagine seeing that than through those webcams that so many people enjoy,” he adds.
The nest cameras have revealed extra information, like how many eggs are being laid, and how many chicks survive.
“If a particular nest happens to have three eggs and the parents aren’t very good hunters or their source that they built the nest on aren’t good, by the time they’re hatched, in the order that they’re laid, which is about two days apart from each other, that first egg hatches could be six days older than that last one. That little one at the end, that last the hatch, might not make it because of sibling rivalry, because there’s not enough food to share,” explains Kevin William Buynie, a Bald Eagle nest monitor.
“If it’s successful parents, you don’t have that problem. And that’s one of the things as a volunteer, that’s different than the eagle cams. You don’t get to see how many eggs were laid. But on an eagle cam, you can and you can tell by that on how many you actually had to start.”
Some Bald Eagles are anxious parents, making sure the smallest eaglet is fed.
Other parents will allow the older siblings to eat the weakest member of the family.
Some are successful hunters of live prey.
Others are scavengers. A recent live stream from a nest in Florida showed a bald eagle family devouring a kitten, likely picked up as road kill.
“One of the things you have to realize about bald eagle cams, there is a disclaimer on there saying that you might actually see stuff that is disturbing. One of the things that you might see that is disturbing is prey that comes back to that nest might be something that actually was a road kill but could be a local dog, local cat,” explains Buynie.
Some bald eagles choose good nest locations. Others are left to abandon eggs because they selected a nesting location constantly disturbed by other animals, including people.
According to recent data from the United States and Wildlife Service, the Bald Eagle population in the United States has quadrupled over the last decade.
In 2009 there were 72,000 birds in the lower 48 states.
Now the population is above 300,000, thanks to conservation efforts.
Bald eagles reached an all-time low of 417 known nesting pairs in 1963 in the lower 48 states.
But after decades of protection, including banning the pesticide DDT and placement of the eagle on the endangered species list in more than 40 states, the bald eagle population has continued to grow.
The Bald Eagle was removed from the list of threatened or endangered species in 2007.
“After it was removed from the federal endangered species list, the eagle has rebounded even further. It’s quadrupled across the nation just in the years since 2009, and that has really built upon its progress over the last few decades. And that’s really a testament too to all the further understanding that we’ve developed on Bald Eagles,” says Wheeler.
For the thousands of people who watch the video streams, they can see eagles procreate, incubate their eggs for 30 days, and then 12 weeks later watch the eagles leave the nest to start their lives as adults.
The nest cameras offer members of the public a real-time window into the success story of the resurgent Bald Eagle population.