Birds & Birding

Nest Cam of the Month: Bald Eagles

An adult bald eagle. Photo © Doug Brown / Flickr through a Creative Commons license.
An adult bald eagle. Photo © Doug Brown / Flickr through a Creative Commons license.

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock since 1782, you can recognize a bald eagle.

Haliaeetus leucocephalus has got it going on.

As American as baseball, NASCAR, or apple pie, their undeniable charisma and occupation as a national symbol has relegated them to next-to-Godliness status. Even veteran birders jump when someone calls out: “Bald eagle overhead!”

Today, we are lucky enough that bald eagle sightings aren’t rare. But for a while there, DDT and shooting were poised to have us reverting to Plan B as far as national symbols go. And no, that wasn’t the turkey, although history buffs will enjoy this rather hilarious account of how our national symbol came to be.

March’s Featured Cam

March’s nest cam of the month is a bald eagle nest in Decorah, Iowa. The cam is hosted by the Raptor Resource Project, a nonprofit dedicated to creating, improving, and maintaining nests sites for hawks, eagles, ospreys, falcons and owls.

Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream

Home Sweet Nest

This cam is trained on one of two nests that these eagles have used since 2007. Bald eagles build some of the largest bird nests out there — the nest in this cam is an estimated 4 feet wide and 3.5 feet deep, weighing a whopping 460 pounds, give or take a few sticks.

The eagles will add on to the nest each year, resulting in a gain of about 200 pounds each nesting season, according to the Raptor Resource Project. The eagle’s first nest, located nearby, measured 6 feet wide and 5 feet deep, and weighed close to 1,367 pounds before the pair abandoned it to build the current nest in the fall of 2012.

The female eagle laid three eggs between February 18 and 25, which will incubate for between 34 and 36 days. That means viewers should be on hatch watch right now! Once they’ve hatched, the chicks will stay in the nest for anywhere between 56 and 98 days.

Young eaglets in the nest. Photo © Dave Menke, USFWS / Flickr
Young eaglets in the nest. Photo © Dave Menke, USFWS / Flickr

Name that Bird Call

If you think you’ve heard a bald eagle’s cry before, think again. That majestic, powerful keeee-ar you’ve heard on the Colbert Report and elsewhere? It’s not a bald eagle. Not even close. It’s the cry of a red-tailed hawk.

I suspect that sound producers across America are engaged in a decades-long conspiracy to cover up the true bald eagle’s cry — a series of unmistakable, high-pitched barking whistles. Admittedly, these calls don’t jibe well with the USA-chanting and fist-pumping view of American masculinity typically attached to bald eagles, but that’s not the birds’ fault.

Older eaglets in West Newbury, Massachusetts. Photo © Massachusetts Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs / Flickr
Older eaglets in West Newbury, Massachusetts. Photo © Massachusetts Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs / Flickr

Tips for Watching

Bald eagles are diurnal, so keep an eye on the cam throughout the day. (For the record: we absolutely endorse tuning in during work. Just don’t tell my boss.) But if workday nest watch isn’t possible, then catch up on the day’s events on the Raptor Resource Facebook page.

And once the eaglets hatch, don’t expect to see these chicks develop the species’ distinctive white heads and tails just yet — it takes young bald eagles about five years to grow into their adult plumage.

More Nest Cams for March

Spring may seem far away for many parts of the country. But before the weather warms, check out winter’s best birds on this feeder cam in Ontario, Canada. Pine grosbeaks, redpolls, and chickadees squabble over seeds, and ruffed grouse make the occasional appearance.

Check back in April for another cam of the month, and share your favorite cams in the comments below.

Justine E. Hausheer

Justine E. Hausheer is a science writer for The Nature Conservancy, covering the innovative fieldwork and research conducted by Conservancy’s scientists around the world. She has a degree from Princeton University and a master's in Science, Health, and Environmental Reporting from New York University. Justine has battled swarms of mosquitos, steep trails, and the wilds of the Papua New Guinea rainforest — all for a good story. When not writing about conservation science, she enjoys having far-flung adventures, long hikes, and waking up at dawn to bird. More from Justine

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23 comments

  1. Not much point in making them “camera of the month” WHEN ALL OF THE JUVENILES ARE DEAD….FIX THE PROBLEM BEFORE YOU KILL THE NEXT BROOD DECORAH.

    1. Yes, great article. Education is the only way to learn how eagles can not survived in this man made industry. Power lines, LEAD poisoning, Road kill snacking and being hit by vehicles. RRP had nothing to do with these juvies deaths. How sad that some people always need to point the finger at someone, RRP, who has done so much to educate all Eagle and raptor lovers. NOW, if you see how many stories of humans shooting and killing eagles, no education needed there.

  2. last year eaglets had some bad things happen in Decorah. Two were killed by power poles through no fault of Raptor Resource. One is not deceased and is becoming a Eagle Ambassador who is now named Decorah. So facts before you get nasty please. These people donate many hours to keep those of us who follow up to date. They are ver giving of all the information they’ve studied and learned so we as just the public can learn why we must try and preserve these magnificent raptors.

  3. Great article. People really should educate themselves about why raptors are killed by power lines. It does not just happen in Decorah, it happens everywhere!

    1. Thanks Bryce! I will have to check that out for my Citizen Science series.

  4. To Sujata Prentice — As others have stated, not all of the Decorah Juvies are dead. Sadly we have lost 4 now to electrocution, both in 2012 & 2014, but had these eagles not been tracked, we would have never known, and even sadder they would just be another dead eagle found at the base of a power pole with no history of origin. Electrocution is a nationwide problem, and probably in your area as well for raptors and other migratory birds. Raptor Resource Project has sought to give links and other info on how we can all lobby our own utility companies to ask if their poles have been retrofitted with avian safeguards, and if not, why not. You can help by following through with your own utility and become part of the solution to saving our wildlife+.

  5. Check out the Duke Farms Eagle Cam in Hillsborough, NJ. The first eaglet of this season hatched on 3.27.15! Waiting on one more.

  6. This is the fourth year for the bald eagle couple nesting at Berry College in Rome, GA. There are three cams, two on the nest and one approach cam that shows the entire tree. We have, again, two chicks, as we did last year. (Note the “we” used throughout. The whole town is quite proprietary about the nest and it’s resident family, and we’re all very proud when the chicks fledge successfully.)The year before last, two eggs were laid but only one hatched. The first year the eagles were here, they started the nest quite late, in March, and weren’t successful in their attempts to raise a family. So it was doubly entrancing that they chose to return to the same nest the following year where they’ve been successful every year since.
    Go to berry.edu/eaglecam to get acquainted with the Rome bald eagle couple and their kids.

  7. It has been 43days since the last egg was laid and it hasn’t hatched yet. What’s up?

  8. Sorry to report I haven’t been able to see the Decorah nest. My picture is always black. I do get to the Decorah North nest.

  9. Today I looked at the eagle cam, and they are gone. I knew it would happen soon. I just want to say thank you. I have so enjoyed watching them since they were little things under their Mom eagle. It has been a real joy. Keep up the good work!