July is a big transitional month for our local bald eagles, as the breeding pairs with eaglets must coax their young to leave the nest. Yes even eagles have trouble sometimes getting their young to leave home. The parents have their little tricks, like instead of bringing the food back to the nest like they have for the last 12 weeks, they instead land in an adjacent tree to effectively say to their eaglets, are you hungry?, well just come over here and get your food. The eaglets who are now full grown, will squawk and complain, but soon realize themselves that its time to find the courage for that first flight.
With eagles nests 80 to 100 feet in the air, its a long way down, and however many times they stand in the nest and flap their wings, there is nothing quite like having the faith to launch yourself into the air that first time. The parents know when that time is, and they will clear the airspace around their nests about 2 weeks prior to their eaglets first flight. Often the adults will spend the most time chasing off last years fledglings who are tolerated to hang around their territory, but when that two week time comes, they are chased off repeatedly until they stay away.
Some eaglets take their first flight and have no issues, but some may go crashing through the branches and injure their wing and won’t make it. Sometimes eaglets will fall out of the nest, due to some disturbance like fireworks, or a rogue puff of wind, and fall from the nest before they are ready or even able to fly. Those massive wings, 6.5 feet wide for males, and 7 feet for females, have their large feathers full of blood prior to being ready to fly, so if they are forced from the nest too early, they just can’t fly, and if not rescued will hide in the bushes, and usually will not make it.
So if you see an eagle on the ground, try and stay as far away as possible. It’s normal for eaglets to stand on the ground for 20 to 30 minutes while they are finding their way in the world. If you see a eagle on the ground for over an hour, then please call me, and I will come asses if the eagle is injured and in trouble, or just resting and will be fine.
Also if you see an juvenile eagle or fledgling on the sand bar, try to keep 300 feet or so away from it. We’ve all seen eagles swoop down and grab a fish out of the water, but that is a skill that takes young eagles years to master. So even though they have left the nest, they are still very dependent on the adults to feed them.
Eagles have another restriction that most people are unaware of, and that is eagles can only fly 28 minutes a day. I’m talking about full wing flap type of flying, where they are using those large wings to move around. We know this because a study was done on eagles, and it was determined no matter how much they eat, they only store enough energy to fly the 28 minutes. Anymore then that and their bodies start consuming themselves, and once that process starts it’s very hard to reverse and the eagles will usually die.
That is why I tell people that you should never try and make a sitting eagle fly. A typical food run takes about 5 minutes for an adult. So when they are feeding themselves and several eaglets the pressure to be successful is really on.
It is really a beautiful thing to see a young eagle on its first flight, with the proud parents beside them soaring the sky. After about two weeks the adults will lead there fledging far up north to catch the salmon runs, and won’t return until October. Fledglings actually look bigger then the adults because their feathers are longer to help them fly easier. They often appear a little clumsy landing in trees, but they’ll be okay.