Tuesday, 7 June 2016


Hey, you didn't have to agree so quickly!

My obsession with the Washington, D.C. eagle nest-cam is apparently shared by 50 million other viewers who have followed this eagle family since two eggs were laid and then hatched separately, February 10 and 14. Freedom, the older sister eagle, and Liberty, her younger brother, have been the source of high drama of late, so much so that the American Eagle Foundation website server crashed today due to sheer volume of use.

Sibling rivalry, we were warned on the website, can often lead to the death of one of the young eaglets. Thankfully, Freedom and Liberty, whether sleeping, eating or merely sitting have been 'joined at the hip' from their life as baby chicks...

....through their growth over the past 11 weeks to young adulthood.

Contrary to popular belief, parent eagles neither teach their eaglets to fly nor do they nudge them from the nest. The desire to soar is inate and usually happens between eleven and fifteen weeks of age. In anticipation of their first flight (fledging), eaglets wingercize in the nest, hovering like mini harrier jets. Freedom has been ahead of Liberty, wingercizing with increasing frequency, her impressive wings spanning the giant aerie.

When, I wondered, will the thrill of soaring outweigh the fear of falling? Freedom must have known it was her time; at 2:30pm on Sunday, she tilted her beak, like a sailor reading the winds, and with nothing below her but air, she spread her wings, taking flight. Glorious flight. 

So why all of the drama? As Freedom flew, one of the two nest cams began scanning the tree line, searching for her in the trees opposite the nest. All attention was on Freedom until one of the cameras caught Liberty in the branches above the nest. He had spotted his sister.

And there he sat and he sat and he sat. His parent eagles brought food to the nest at dusk, but Liberty never descended from his perch to eat. Throughout the long night he sat, never losing sight of his sister's location. Honestly, no one will ever convince me again that birds are incapable of emotion. Come back, I imagine him squawking.

Hunger ultimately drove Liberty from his perch in the morning when mother eagle brought fish to the nest. ( Both parents will continue to feed their young until the eaglets vacate permanently.) 

Every drama must have comic relief. After eating and after his mother's departure, Liberty wandered the nest.....alone. For the first time he discovered the camera. Could he see his reflection in it? Was he asking if Freedom would ever return? Who knows, but he began pecking at the camera, creating the most amusing selfie of all time. 

As I write, the American Eagle Foundation website is again up and running. Apparently Freedom has been soaring from perch to perch while Liberty now sits even higher above the nest, never losing sight of his sister. (In the photo below: Freedom, yellow circle on left. Nest/Aerie, lower yellow circle on right. Liberty, upper yellow circle on right.) Liberty will survive Freedom's departure and he too, will soon know it's his time and take flight. Like a proud surrogate mother I will cheer, wave a loving farewell and even shed a tear.

Sadly, neither eaglet will ever return to this nest. After a summer of learning to hunt, they will find mates and create their own families and nests. The webcam? It will film a vacant aerie until the parent eagles, Mr. President and First Lady return in January to lay their eggs. I'll be tuning in next year. I wouldn't miss it. Yup! Forget TV, I'm for the birds!

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