How do they make that nest?

One of the most fascinating aspects of this up close and personal view from the nest cam, is the chance to get a good look at the nest itself. From our vantage point on the ground, most of what we see looks like a giant ball of sticks up in the tree. But, a closer look reveals that an eagle’s nest, or eyrie (the word for the high nest of a bird of prey), is actually a complex structure.

The first thing the eagle needs to do when they are ready ---is choose the right tree. Not just any tree can hold up a structure that might weigh several hundred pounds, and in some cases more than a ton! So the eagles need to choose a sturdy tree, and in that tree find just the right spot that will be strong enough to hold the nest for many years.

Here in southern Minnesota, most often bald eagle’s nests are in cottonwood trees. They are the tallest trees in our river valley forests. Up north, where you might see an eagles nest on a lake, eagles prefer the white pines – again the tallest, largest trees in that northern forest. Where ever they choose, eagles are looking for a place with a great view and plenty of food nearby.

Next, the eagles begin building the nest, stick by stick. The first sticks are quite large, as they form the base of what will become a massive structure. Now these aren’t just any old sticks lying around. The eagles actually grab them off the trees, by flying full force, and snapping them off with their powerful talons!  

If that’s not impressive enough, then they often fly with these sticks in their talons, while doing aerial acrobatics. One eagle might drop the stick, and their mate swoops down to catch it in mid-air! So, they’re not just working on the making a nest, they eagles are also getting to know one another. They are showing off their strength and skills. They want to prove that they are fit and ready to provide for the coming eaglets.

They continue weaving in sticks into the crotch of the tree, and into the existing frame of sticks. In the first year, a nest might be 5-6 feet in diameter and 1-2 feet high. But each year as the pair returns to use the nest again, they will go through many of these same displays, and add on a foot or more of sticks, creating a larger and larger nest each year.  The largest eagle’s nest – one that had been used for decades – was more than nine feet across, an more than 20 feet deep!

Once they have created the stick structure, they begin working on the interior. They will line the inside of the nest with smaller twigs and grass. These soft materials to make a nice bed for incubating the eggs. They eagles will continue adding to the nest – both soft material inside and sticks around the outside, until the female is ready to lay eggs.  … Which will bring us to another upcoming blog topic … so stay tuned!

Program Specialist

Wabasha, MN