Those of us who live around here sometimes take the bald eagles for granted. We forget that they’re not common in all parts of the country. But we never tire of seeing them and their majestic white heads and enormous wingspans. This time of the year is particularly wonderful as we’re regularly seeing eagles (it’s not uncommon to see 5-12 in one trip) and we’re seeing the fledglings.
So what’s a fledgling or fledging? Fledging is when the baby eagles, aka eaglets, learn to fly. It comes from the term fledge which refers to when the babies have acquired the feathers and wing muscles necessary for flight. The first flight usually happens around 10 to 13 weeks after hatching so what we’re seeing now are the babies who hatched sometime in June.
Once the young eagles have fledged, they remain around the nest for 4 or 5 weeks, taking short flights while their primary feathers grow and strengthen. Their parents still provide all of their food.
Rarely do you see baby bald eagles but we’re seeing them pretty much on every trip. We currently have 4 nests on our stretch of the river, although only 2 of the nests can be seen from the rafts. In the past two weeks, we have taken 186 trips. We have seen 1,446 eagles (958 adults and 488 immatures) on those trips, which brings the average to 7.77 eagles per trip. There was only 1 of the 186 trips that did NOT see an eagle! We have seen as many as 14 individual eagles on one trip during the past 2 weeks.
What we’re seeing as they fledge are their attempts at flight and fishing and learning life on their own. It’s pretty fun to watch. Currently we’re also seeing multiple nesting pairs along the river which is unusual. The female eagle generally lays one to three eggs. Sometimes three chicks will hatch but competition in the nest is so high that generally only one or two will survive. But we are seeing more of the multiples.
The adult eagles tend to fish early in the morning to feed their babies. So the 8 or 10 o’clock floats can sometime catch this action. Not an early riser? Not to worry. As you can tell by the numbers above, it’s extremely rare not to see eagles on a trip.
So if you’ve always wanted to see baby eagles, now is the time. But they’ll be flying off on their own soon so don’t wait too long to book a trip.
Did you know? Other interesting eagle facts…
Bald eagles are not actually bald; the name comes from the old English term “balde” which originally meant white, not hairless.
Immature bald eagles do not have the white head and because of that are sometimes mistaken for the golden eagle. As the juveniles mature, their head and tail feathers gradually turn white. It’s not until they’re about five that they have that wonderful, distinctive ‘full head of hair.’
- Bald eagles mate for life. If an eagle loses its mate, the mate is replaced.
- Eagles often use the same nest year after year. Over the years, some nests become enormous, as much as 9 feet in diameter, weighing two tons.
- From the time the parents build the nest and the young are on their own, takes about 20 weeks. During the nesting cycle the parents remain within one to two miles of the nest.
- Only fifty percent of bald eagle fledglings will survive their first year.
- The average lifespan of bald eagles in the wild is around 20 years, so they have many years in which to reproduce.
- Typical wingspan is between 6 and 7.5 feet. It’s an impressive sight to see.