Chicks, Man



For those of you who follow the blog closely you will remember that the Eagle Observation Department (EOD) here at The Institute has been closely following developments at our Top Secret Golden eagle nesting site at Watson lake, Bellvue, Colorado, 80512. Just a few weeks ago we conducted a scientific study concerning the number of Feathers on a Golden Eagle and its importance to their quality of life. You may refresh your memory by revisiting this important study here .

One of the reasons we have been closely following this Golden eagle pair is that due to recent activity between the two we have been led to believe it is entirely possible that they will produce young. We’re talking Chicks, man. As this is not a triple X rated blog we will not describe all the lurid details of these eaglesque encounters but we have all the pictures just in case someone doubts our word. And just like Kim Kardashian we won’t show you all the intimate details, wait, Kim Kardashian did show us all the intimate details. Hmmmm, however we’ve already said we won’t so we mean it. NO naughty eagle bits here.

But as you well know you can’t be doing the eagle dance of love all the time and there are other things that need to be taken care of before it’s egg time. There’s the eaglet shower, and getting the nursery ready, catching a movie and maybe an eagle dance or two to get in before it’s time to lay the eggs. As each egg is about 3″ long the eagles are looking at a long incubation period of 43-45 days with the female sitting on the nest constantly until the eggs are hatched. Absolutely no eagle dancing goes on during that period for sure I can tell you. The male, who by the time the incubation period has been in effect for a week or so, gets a little grumpy and goes out and hunts stuff and brings back the unnecessarily mangled prey for his mate to eat. This goes on for about 6 weeks after the chicks are hatched and by that time you can’t even tell what it was that the male eagle killed and brought back. Eagles are pretty basic animals, live, grow feathers, love, get frustrated, kill stuff, raise chicks. That about covers eagle behavior.

But as we mentioned earlier there’s a lot of stuff to get done and one of the biggys is getting the nursery ready. Here we see some rather common eagle behavior. Featherglo, the female Golden eagle, is bringing in nesting material to line the nest with. In this case it is a sage plant she has ripped out of the ground and she will use her body weight to press the sage down into the nest cavity forming a lush soft base for her to lay her eggs on.  She will be sitting on this for nearly a month and a half so it needs to be pretty comfortable.

We have given these two Golden eagles identifying names so we can tell them apart and have some sort of reference to indicate who’s who. We have already mentioned  Featherglo our female eagle, and we have named the male Strongbeak the mighty of the Iron Bill clan, Rabbit killer and Talon Thruster, Highest Flyer, Sky Crusher and Rattlesnake’s bane, we call him Strongbeak for short.

Since things are really getting good here at our Top Secret Golden Eagle nesting site, what with eagles flying around doing cool stuff in the air, the frenzied eagle dancing, and nest-building and such, we plan to follow-up this story to its hopefully successful conclusion, which would be young eaglets being raised and sent forth out into the world to make their own lives and repeat the cycle. This will require long periods of time spent sitting in a lawn chair behind our long lens drinking cold drinks and eating Subway sandwiches and occasionally some lasagna we made a few days ago, waiting for something to happen and then photographing it. We are prepared to do that so that you, who can not be here in person, can follow the lives of Featherglo and Strongbeak as they undertake this most important time of their lives.

If there is any problem with this plan it is that our Top Secret Nesting Site is on government property which is controlled and managed by the Colorado Fish and Game department. Consequently they have seen fit to establish the eagle’s nest on a Cliffside across a river, approximately 600 plus yards from where we can set up our observation post where it is handy for us to put up our lawn chairs, coolers for our refreshments, stands to hold our eagle identification books for dummies, trash receptacles, restroom facilities etc. As this is just about the optical limit for our specially designed Japanese manufactured telephoto lens to hope to get useable pictures, we have petitioned the Colorado Fish and Game division to move the nest closer, perhaps to one of the cottonwood trees nearby that line the river bank. That would make life much easier for us and give the eagles a change of view. So far we have had no response to our request. In fact when trying to flag down the government vehicle that is filled to overflowing with government officials that periodically cruise by to observe us, they speed up and will even take drastic measures to avoid the nail strips we place in the road to slow them down. We are considering writing a harsh but carefully worded letter to the New York Times if we don’t get a response soon. I know they don’t want that so we hope to get word from them soon.

In the mean time, we shall be on the job, doing photography stuff, observing, analyzing data, taking short power naps, calling people to see what they’re doing, trying to figure a way to stop the government truck, telling jokes to people who walk by, singing songs of nature and trying to figure out the lyrics to any Joe Cocker song, making bets on what the next food item might be that Strongbeak brings in, and living life. That’s it, Join us if you want to, Oh that’s right, this is a Top Secret Golden eagle nesting site located at Watson lake, Bellvue, Colorado, 80512 and you won’t be able to find it. Watch for future posts then.

Feather Count



Feather Count4410


This is, as many of you know who watch the Nature channel, a Golden Eagle. They are nature’s answer to the stealth bomber, or Italy’s Ferrari, or TV’s Christina Hendricks. I mention her only because of the similarity of her hair color to the color of the eagle’s feathers while soaring against the bluest of blue skies in the late afternoon sun. This must be how Christina’s hair would look as it caught the sun if she were flying around the cliff face here at the eagle nesting site in one of her tightest-fitting dresses…… but wait, did I just say that out loud, never mind, let’s just acknowledge that this is a Golden eagle and move on.

What many of you don’t know is that feather loss is a common but little known problem for birds of prey, particularly for the larger birds like the Golden eagle. The Eagle Observation Department (EOD) here at The Institute has a serious, but totally unnecessary, project in place where we have taken it upon ourselves to perform a periodic inventory of the overall health of this pair of Golden eagles, which includes a full exact feather count of each bird, if you will. We do this simply as a public service at absolutely no cost to you the taxpayer. Since the Federal government has repeatedly refused to fund our efforts in this endeavor we have had no other choice but to take this on ourselves and self-fund this project. Which is why you occasionally see members of The Institute approaching perfect strangers downtown and asking them for money, or canned goods, or checking the coin slots in public phones for quarters, or even, sadly, standing at corners with our cardboard sign saying “Give me money! I’m counting feathers for the community! Thank you, The Institute.” So far we’re barely making it but as this is a necessary project, we persevere.

Yesterday was one of our inventory days, so we sent a three-man team of scientists, photographers and security to our top-secret Golden eagle nesting site at Watson lake, outside of Bellvue, Colorado, 80512. The eagles were there and seemed eager to get this over with as they had mating to do so they could get the nest up and running for this years hatchlings.

Using our secret collection of eagle controlling hand signs, developed and patented here at The Institute, we were able to get the eagles to fly slowly back and forth as we counted feathers as quickly as we could. This is a much more difficult process than at first appears. As the feathers must be counted manually and in order, such as 8001, 8002, 8004 and so on, for accuracy. It is easy to lose count due to people walking up and asking you what are you doing or shaking your tripod leg. After answering you have to quickly reacquire the bird in your viewfinder and start over before it flies out of range. Add to that having to ask the eagle to fly upside-down so you can count the feathers on its back and you begin to get the picture of how difficult this process is.

This is why we have security on site as we inventory. Our crack security officer can keep the most persistent of onlookers at bay by slapping at their knees repeatedly with his attack dog’s leash. They howl and complain that they don’t have full access to events happening on public land but sacrifices often have to be made in the advance of science.  Besides they always want to look through your viewfinder and talk to you about how they once saw a bird that looked a lot like an eagle, and sometimes about their Aunt who suddenly and for no reason took off all her clothes and jumped laughing into the lake, scaring the Canada geese all to hell. We’re busy here people, we don’t have time for idle chit-chat.

It was a long, long day but we finally finished and everyone was relieved including the eagles that we had gotten through another one of these trying but totally unnecessary procedures. We made plans to meet back here again in a month to repeat our efforts and everyone was good with that, except the female eagle who had taken to pulling some of her tertiary feathers out and was threatening to start on her primaries when we made a joint decision to reschedule in six weeks instead. This seemed to placate her somewhat. Some of us remembered that expecting females were often difficult to manage during this time, so allowances were made.

Our tallies were much closer this time than during previous attempts. Our scientist came in with a count of 114,651 feathers for the male eagle, the photographer counted close to 3000, and our security person had a count of 9, but as he was quite busy with crowd control we understood the discrepancy. So added together and averaged that gave us a count of 39,200 feathers for the male. The females’ numbers were tossed after she started pulling out her primaries during the fourth or fifth hour of counting. We are deciding if we are going to keep her involved as one the test subjects or not, we may not, at least until after the chicks are born. She should be in a much more manageable state by then. And besides due to weight gain before she lays those eggs she’ll probably pop a few feathers anyway, but that’s a subject for another study.

In the meantime we’ll continue monitoring the site and observe whatever behavioral changes we see. If this is a study you can support we encourage you to send donations of many dollars, especially large denominations, if you can, to The Institute so we can continue our valuable work. We’re particularly looking for those supporters that don’t pay much attention to details and results but like to be known for supporting wildlife causes no matter what the reason. Remember, the more you give, the better you look. And looking good is great!