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2011 Nesting Season Information

2011 Nesting Season

With help from thousands of sponsors nationwide including private foundations, corporate foundations, and private individuals, all who provided generous financial support, the Sutton Center undertook an eight year long (1985-1992) elaborate effort to reintroduce the bald eagle as a nesting bird in the state of Oklahoma and to North Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi (National Geographic, Nov, 1992). With no bald eagles nesting in the Sooner state in 1985, as a result of Sutton's reintroduction efforts, today there are over 120 pairs nesting in Oklahoma as well as similar numbers in the other states involved. The birds shown on these cameras are "grandeagles and great grandeagles" from those birds released in the reintroduction program.

We feel it is important to share with the people of Oklahoma, of the nation, and worldwide the fascinating marvels of the natural world. This increases appreciation by the public of the wildlife in our state and nation, which we hope translates to greater value being placed on these magnificent animals when threatened by the ever increasing demands made on the environment. As biologists we are seeking to learn more about our national bird regarding habitat use in this geographical region, regional nesting diets for both adults and young, causes of nesting failures or successes, intra- and interspecific interactions, a greater understanding of eagle behavior, analysis of dispersal by young bald eagles from Oklahoma nests, and a determination of how we can better insure the survival of these birds for future generations. These cameras share the secrets of bald eagle nest life with teachers and students, with families at home, with workers in offices, with biologists, and with millions of assorted viewers worldwide. Feedback from viewers suggests that all greatly enjoy daily glimpses into the life of our national bird. We try to avoid influencing the outcome (success or failure) of each nesting attempt, and what is shown on the screen can be joyful to watch or very disappointing---it is a real, unedited glimpse into the natural lives of these birds.

In 2006, some six seasons ago, the Sutton Center first joined forces with ATLAS BROADBAND wireless communications experts, Oklahoma's ONENET state government and education internet system, and OG&E energy company, along with several other sponsors to install a camera in a bald eagle nest on the Arkansas River in Sand Springs, OK. Since that time, we have provided cameras on various Oklahoma bald eagle nests each year with millions of hits from nearly 70 countries worldwide annually. This year (2011), we have added a camera on a new nest in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oklahoma. Our cameras are not in areas where we can plug into alternating current, so it is necessary to use solar panels and small wind generators mounted on trailers in order to power these remote cameras. Frankly, we never realized how much work it would be to install and keep these cameras up and running, and it is pretty much a full time job. If the cameras go down, please be patient as we will try to remedy any failures as soon as possible, if possible. All the partners involved hope you will enjoy sharing in the secrets of bald eagle nest life, and that you will treasure our natural heritage and honor its presence with great respect should you be fortunate enough to make contact in the wild.

Please also check the "eagle tracking" area of our web site where you can follow the travels of two young eagles that first flew from an Oklahoma nest in 2010. With support from NatureWorks, these 2010 birds are equipped with GPS reporting, solar backpack mounted transmitters that allow tracking of their wanderings. If we can identify funding, we hope to attach more GPS transmitters to the eagles you are watching grow up this year on the eagle cameras. Let us keep our fingers crossed that the eggs you see now and the youngsters hatching this season will survive well into the future and help maintain a healthy bald eagle population.

2011 Nesting Season Updates

5 May 2010: The male eagle from Sequoyah NWR has been added to our tracking page. We also hope to restore the wide angle video view from Sequoyah, if possible.

28 April: Lightning during the recent storms caused extensive damage to the equipment at Sequoyah NWR. While the transmission equipment on the ground can be replaced, the nest cameras themselves have also been damaged and are no longer functioning. The soggy ground from flood producing rainfall totals, as well as the high cost of a crane will prevent repairs to the cameras from being made at this time. We are disappointed at this turn of events, but we look forward to monitoring the movements of the chick with the installed GPS transmitter once it starts traveling away from the nest in the coming weeks, and you will be able to follow along from our eagle tracking page.

21 April: Our eagle tracking project was featured on KOTV (channel 6) last night. The video can be viewed online by clicking here.

20 April: The eaglet that first left the nest last week (as reported here on 15 April) was back in the nest this morning. The siblings fought a few times, and the eaglet with the transmitter was forced out of the nest for its first flight. A short time later it returned to the nest. With both eaglets now more or less fledged, they will probably be coming and going from the nest over the coming days or weeks. You can expect to see none, one, or both eaglets off and on as they come and go from the nest while testing and improving their flying and hunting skills.

15 April: As we posted some time ago, it has been our hope, with the support of USFWS, to place GPS Satellite/solar powered transmitters on the young eagles in this year's camera nest at USFWS's Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge. Our intentions were to allow all to track the birds as they first flew, continue tracking through their post-fledging period while they were hanging around the nesting territory and being fed by their parents at the nest or in nearby trees, and then as they gained independence and traveled throughout their dispersal. (If you check the tracking section on our website, you will be able to follow the paths of the two young eagles from last year in Sand Springs on which we mounted the same type of transmitters, and will find that they have traveled throughout OK, as well as spent time in KS, TX, and AR.) This year, pending funding (it costs about $6K for each transmitter and tracking time on the five satellites that record their movements), we plan to place a total of 4 such transmitters on young bald eagles from OK.

The snag in our plan for this year was that, even though we ordered the transmitters more than three months ago for delivery no later than April 1, the date we had initially set to install them, there was a mix-up on the order; due to demand by others needing similar units, ours could not be delivered until April 14 (by overnight, early morning delivery). Because of the mix-up as well as the time it takes to construct these units, even that delivery date was only available on an emergency basis. Well, the best laid plans of mice and men...

Bald eagles first fly usually from 10-12 weeks of age, with the smaller, more southern birds (which are the FL stock for all of the OK eagles released from 1985-1992) flying earliest, and some of the larger birds taking a few days longer (even as much as 14 weeks, although that is unusual) before taking to the air. Also, males being smaller than females develop sooner and fly earlier by a few days. At this time in their lives young birds ready to fledge have been compared to a fragile seed pod that is ready to explode depending on the slightest breeze-very difficult to predict, but poised, ready to blast off when even a minor stimulus hits them. These birds are actually able to fly, although not well, about 10 days prior to their actual first flight date.

Normally, it is best to mount this type of transmitter on their backs at about 8 weeks of age, but even then, caution must be used since the birds can still bail out of the nest when you climb up to it.  Since our transmitters could only arrive yesterday, we devised a plan that we thought would work in order to capture these advanced age birds while not hurting them. Once the units arrived yesterday, we headed straight for the nest, about a three hour drive.

There, with Sequoyah Wildlife Refuge manager Jeff Haas and his very capable staff members, along with Sutton staffers and a couple of diligent volunteer eagle observers, we began our efforts. Because the birds were so old and were right at the very age of taking first flight, we could not spare even one day more before mounting the units on the eagles, lest they fledge naturally (but without transmitters). At the same time we had to beat the severe storm (high winds and tornadoes brewing) that was to arrive about 6PM. We positioned refuge and Sutton staff throughout the adjacent fields with binoculars so that should the eaglets fly on their own, there might be a chance of finding their hidden landing locations. Another refuge staffer manned the camera monitors inside the headquarters so that we could tell if our operations in the nest with water were succeeding (see below).

We were able to ascend just below the 80 ft. high nest with the help of a crane (the tree is covered with poison ivy), all the time pulling up the water hose from the refuge fire truck and being blocked from the vision of the young eagles by the mass of the nest between them and us. Then, with the hose adjusted to the "sprinkle" setting, we shot a fine mist of water up and over the nest and onto the youngsters as if they were in a rain. Wet feathers make them more reluctant to fly. We use this method regularly when we are releasing falcons or eagles to be hacked (released) into the wild so that they do not bolt out of the hack box when first released, and although we were able to douse one eaglet pretty thoroughly using this technique, the other one was situated such that it did not get thoroughly wetted down. Still, both stayed in the "fear response" position of lying down in the nest initially in an effort to avoid being seen from the ground. Due to some mechanical problems with operation of the crane, the time in the crane's bucket took significantly longer than intended, and although it could not see us in the bucket under the nest, one of the nervous birds (the older eagle; 73 days) eventually stood up and decided to give its wings a try. It headed out, flying strongly, escorted by a couple of resident crows, for about 1/2 mile before landing. After a while, it flew another leg of perhaps ¾ mile and then landed again, all in significant wind provided by the incoming storm. We were finally able to raise the crane a bit more, and then quickly bound over the nest edge and net the remaining eagle.

After return to the ground, and careful measurements and adjustments, the backpack mounted GPS transmitter was applied to the young male eagle. Then it was tested one last time to insure that signals were being produced and picked up by our equipment. Next, we returned to the crane bucket, rode back up to the nest edge, wetted down the now dry eagle one more time, and gently placed him back in the nest to dry off in the high winds. We all made it through the storm, and this morning (April 15), the adults brought in a coot on which the young eagle fed to some degree.  He is quite capable at this age of tearing it up, but he is extremely well fed and fat. A little hunger will encourage both chicks to tear up their own food.

We realized that everyone would be concerned over the eagle that flew away, and we knew that this was a likely possibility for both birds when we undertook the mission at this late age. However, it is unlikely that any problem will result. Birds of prey, in fact most birds, have an incredible, innate homing ability. As an example, when we had built the first peregrine falcon release site at Cornell back in 1975 at Taughannock Falls Gorge near Ithaca, N.Y., the location where Arthur A. Allen snapped the famous peregrine image at the waterfalls, the door to the site was opened after the young had spent two weeks in the hack box suspended on the cliff. As hacked birds, they had no parents present, and they had only been able to view their location out of one side of the barred front. One of the falcons launched out of the box after about five minutes and flew strongly down the gorge, along the mountain range, and back up another gorge about a mile away. Our hearts sunk thinking that the operation was doomed as the bird could in no way see from where it had first flown; however, we did have primitive transmitters on all five of the young. Two days later, this lost falcon, flew back up the initial gorge and landed right in the hack box from which it first departed.

At any rate, our departed young eagle, flew very strongly due to its advanced age (the ability to fly is a matter of maturation and not of learning; in one study, terns raised by being confined in a tube where they could not flap their wings were able to fly just as well as normal, unconfined tern youngsters once they reached the same age of first flight, although exercise and practice does hone their flying skills), and unless it ends up on the ground where it could be vulnerable to dog or coyote packs (just as it could do during any fledging flight) it will make its way back to the nesting territory. It will see its parents flying about, and will either be fed by them when it begs from trees in the area or it may well return to the actual nest to fraternize with its brother and share meals. We will all watch, along with the staff of Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge, to see what happens, but keep in mind that this could take as much as two weeks.

With a week's worth of planning, arranging for the crane rental, scheduling other employee duties around this timing, and the packing of needed gear and equipment the day prior, yesterday started for all involved at 7AM and ended at 10PM; in other words, it was a long, stress-filled day. We appreciate the kind words from all those who have shown that they enjoy watching and learning about the private life of these magnificent birds.

On another note, we realize there are a FEW out there who, although ill informed on eagle biology and natural history in general, or on the highly cooperative and successful history of this project and our bald eagle restoration efforts detailed elsewhere on our website, will always demand attention by making a lot of negative noise. We work very hard to spend our own time and efforts in wildlife conservation and education so that we may all learn more about our national symbol and about other birds, as well as about how we can better manage the environment for the survival of all living things. Therefore, we simply do not have the time or the inclination to respond to ill founded and negative comments. Should you have sincere and well intentioned concerns or suggestions regarding our efforts toward wildlife conservation and natural history education, please let us know directly through contact information available on our website. Thank you, and enjoy the eagles!

24 March: These young eaglets hatched on February 1 and 4, and are now past the age of six weeks old. Six weeks is usually a time after which bald eagle sibling aggression disappears, and serious siblicide in this species no longer occurs, as it would appear that plenty of prey is available this year. At this age, young bald eagles are completely covered with dark brown body and flight feathers, under which down feathers help keep the eaglets warm. The brown body or contour feathers help shed rain and wind, but as the spring progresses, overheating from direct sun can also be a problem until the leaves come out. So, it is the typical paradox associated with Oklahoma weather. The youngsters will cuddle up together to cut down surface area and thus keep warm. Often you will notice that they are lying in the shade of the overhead branches in an effort to keep cool. When they lie down and extend a leg backward, they are doing so to thermoregulate by allowing heat to escape from the bare skin of their exposed foot. At this age the body of the birds is still growing to some degree, even though growth has slowed as they approach full size; still, they can look small when compared to their parents since the wing (primaries and secondaries) and tail feathers are not fully grown. The shafts of the still-growing flight feathers are filled with blood, and the bird's plumage is described as "in the blood." The still-growing primaries and tail feathers will continue to contain blood when the young birds first take flight anytime after eleven weeks of age, and it will be about two more weeks following their maiden launch into the air until the feathers are fully grown. Then the blood inside the feathers disappears, and the hollow feather shafts become light and aid buoyancy in flight.  

Feeding by the adults is less frequent now, but greater amounts of meat, such as from a captured duck, may be consumed at one feeding. As the youngsters approach first flight, feeding by the adults can sometimes be as infrequent as every 2-3 days as the birds naturally "lighten up" in preparation for their launch into the air. If adults are feeding small food items, such as softshelled turtles or shad, however, they may feed more frequently.  We hope to put backpack mounted GPS satellite transmitters on both of these birds sometime within the next month but before they fly for the first time. This will allow all of us to follow their movements after they leave the nest. Stay tuned.

For older entries from the 2011 season, use the 2011 Nesting Season Information link near the upper left side of this page.

March 24: These young eaglets hatched on February 1 and 4, and are now past the age of six weeks old. Six weeks is usually a time after which bald eagle sibling aggression disappears, and serious siblicide in this species no longer occurs, as it would appear that plenty of prey is available this year. At this age, young bald eagles are completely covered with dark brown body and flight feathers, under which down feathers help keep the eaglets warm. The brown body or contour feathers help shed rain and wind, but as the spring progresses, overheating from direct sun can also be a problem until the leaves come out. So, it is the typical paradox associated with Oklahoma weather. The youngsters will cuddle up together to cut down surface area and thus keep warm. Often you will notice that they are lying in the shade of the overhead branches in an effort to keep cool. When they lie down and extend a leg backward, they are doing so to thermoregulate by allowing heat to escape from the bare skin of their exposed foot. At this age the body of the birds is still growing to some degree, even though growth has slowed as they approach full size; still, they can look small when compared to their parents since the wing (primaries and secondaries) and tail feathers are not fully grown. The shafts of the still-growing flight feathers are filled with blood, and the bird's plumage is described as "in the blood." The still-growing primaries and tail feathers will continue to contain blood when the young birds first take flight anytime after eleven weeks of age, and it will be about two more weeks following their maiden launch into the air until the feathers are fully grown. Then the blood inside the feathers disappears, and the hollow feather shafts become light and aid in buoyancy for flight.  

Feeding by the adults is less frequent now, but greater amounts of meat, such as from a captured duck, may be consumed at one feeding. As the youngsters approach first flight, feeding by the adults can sometimes be as infrequent as every 2-3 days as the birds naturally "lighten up" in preparation for their launch into the air. If adults are feeding small food items, such as softshelled turtles or shad, however, they may feed more frequently.  We hope to put backpack mounted GPS satellite transmitters on both of these birds sometime within the next month but before they fly for the first time. This will allow all of us to follow their movements after they leave the nest. Stay tuned.

25 February: Recently, a Sutton crew traveled to Sooner Lake to check on activity around Bald Eagle nests in that area. Overall, we checked seven nests within three or four eagle territories that our personnel and field observers had monitored in the past. Of those seven nests, only one nest was active with two adults present, and from their behavior they appeared to be incubating eggs or perhaps brooding very small chicks. We categorize the pole nest as occupied but not active this year. There were no eagles to be found around any of the other nests. While some of these nests were alternates for pairs that typically choose one or the other each year, even the primary nests were unoccupied although pairs of eagles had been associated with them earlier in the year but had failed to breed. Only one active nest and one occupied nest out of three or four territories during the breeding season is a fairly low proportion. For example, of 102 Bald Eagle nests surveyed in Oklahoma in 2009, 72% were occupied.

This is the fifth year during which we have had cameras on eagle nests in the Sooner Lake area, but it is the driest nesting season we have seen during this time of the year. The three, concrete-filled barrels, normally submerged, that serve as anchors for the guy wires holding the pole and nest erect are nearly completely out of the water owing to the shallow water level. One might speculate that since the water level there is down, only the deep water is left and the broad spans of shallow water around the shoreline needed by the eagles to fish and hunt has dried up, but we are only surmising that this could be the case.

About 150 feet from the tree used by the only pair that is nesting, we found a dead adult eagle, apparently a male (some size overlap exists between males and female bald eagles) lying on its belly in the grass with blood in its mouth (see photos, below). The bird was fresh and in good shape (good body fat), but its feet had fresh cuts, scratches, and punctures all over them. Again, we can only speculate, but it is likely that this male had been grappling with the resident male or pair, and received injuries on the feet. Such injuries are unlikely to have caused death, but a resident adult diving from above that might have struck him in the head or body could have delivered a fatal blow. To be clear, the dead bird is not one of the pole nest pair, and the nest pictured below is not one that has ever been on camera. The dead bird is most likely a young intruder into the nesting pair's territory.

Dead eagle on ground

A dead adult male eagle lies in the foreground while the nest containing eggs or small young can be seen in the tree behind. One of the two resident adults is flying overhead while the second adult is circling outside the camera view. This dead eagle was probably an intruder into the territory of the nesting pair.

Dead eagle closeup

The tail of this adult eagle is somewhat
mottled toward the feather tips, suggesting
that it might be a young adult.

Dead eagle feet

Note the feet of the dead eagle; the foot at the top has two deep cuts
on the top of the foot, and both feet have scratches and numerous
punctures likely resulting from grappling with the resident eagles.
Such wounds to the feet should not cause death, but a blow to the
head or body from one of the diving adults could well have resulted
in the death of this bird.

While the cameras on the pole nest at Sooner have been out, off and on, for the last two weeks and during the heavy snow, the eagles there had conducted some work on the nest and had brought in grasses for lining the nest cup. It now looks like they have decided not to breed at the last minute, so we are disappointed along with you. Fortunately, we still have the Sequoyah eagles to study and enjoy.

The chicks at the Sequoyah site should be watched closely. One chick is growing rapidly and is now acquiring its second, dark grey down, while the smallest chick is still covered with its first, light grey down. Just to prepare viewers, and while not always predictable, as the larger chick continues to dominate feedings, the smaller chick may well continue to lose the race for food and thus the race in growth. The older chick may attack and kill the smaller chick in an act of siblicide, or if the smaller chick gets too weak to feed, the parent may actually kill and feed the weak chick to its older sibling. To the human observer, this is gruesome, but it is the way things often happen in the wild. It is ultimately better in terms of passing along genes for a pair to raise one, strong chick with a good chance to survive than to raise two mediocre chicks with chances of survival that are reduced. Starvation of the youngest chick is more common in clutches of three, but can sometimes happen with pairs as well. This isn't a forecast (both chicks may survive), we are just informing camera viewers of what sometimes happens in eagle nests.

17 February: As of yesterday, the Sooner Lake pair is showing no clear sign of where they will nest. Last year they did not lay until the end of February, so we will wait and see. We continue to have intermittant problems streaming the Sooner Lake video. It is nearly 100 degrees warmer at the Sequoyah nest than it was a week ago, and the chicks can actually be left unattended for a time with the warmer weather.

13 February: The crippling snowfalls and low temperatures have certainly made February a challenging month for both people and wildilfe in Oklahoma. We will do our best to restore the Sequoyah close-up cam feed as soon as possible. There is a problem with streaming the video for that camera (but not with the camera itself). As of today we can confirm that both chicks appear to be doing well. We hope to also investigate the status of the Sooner Lake pair once a bit more of the snow is gone and travel is easier.

3 February 2011: It seems that the extreme cold and/or the snow are causing some camera problems. They may well start working again on their own. If not, we will try to get to the sites next week. Last we are aware, one chick had hatched at the Sequoyah nest.

26 January 2011: As an update, the Sutton Center is cooperating with the Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge this year to bring you a second video from a nest on the refuge that was the primary hacking (release) site of most of the 90 bald eagle chicks that the Sutton Research Center released in Oklahoma from 1985-1990. The adults at Sequoyah are probably grand kids or great grandkids of these original released birds. They are now incubating two eggs from an original clutch this year of three. We do not know what happened to the third egg; it simply disappeared. It was probably broken by the adults or destroyed by nest predators such as crows. These two eggs are scheduled to hatch within the first ten days of February, assuming all continues to go well.

Last year the eggs in the clutch at the Sooner Lake area nest were laid during the last days of February and first days of March, so we will likely be waiting a while before this pair puts down a clutch this season. There is significant variation in the time of egg laying by eagles in different parts of the state, and among individual pairs of eagles. Yesterday we visited the pole nest that is currently on-camera, along with their alternate nest in a tree about a mile away, and the eagles were not present during our visit although both members of the pair spent the night on the pole nest. The alternate nest is well built this year (compared to the measly structure last year from which both chicks tumbled out), but it is only partially lined with grasses so far. We really do not know which nest these birds will use at this time. We also visited a third nest at which construction has taken place this year some miles away, and we did not see any activity there either. The female at the pole nest was manipulating a long thin branch today, but we expect to see increased nest building and lining activity at the pole nest or at the alternate nest site during the next couple of weeks, so help us identify if activity increases at the pole nest. We expect to be ready with cameras should the eagles choose the alternate site. Please be sure to indicate to which nest you are referring when you make comments.

21 January 2011: We are bringing a second eagle nest online thanks to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge near Vian, Oklahoma! Eggs are currently being incubated at the Sequoyah nest, and should hatch in early February. Please bear with us over the coming week as we try to work out some technical difficulties.

13 January 2011: We are waiting to see if the eagles will nest on the tower this year, or at an alternate site which they have also been refurbishing. You can view a video clip from today at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sOErOHzdJLU thanks to a nest cam viewer.