The newly hatched eaglets are covered in down. For the first two weeks, they are pretty helpless, unable even to hold their head up for feeding. They are extremely vulnerable at this stage. They are also so small that an adult eagle is usually present just to keep the eaglets warm and protect them from any potential predators like crows, hawks or owls.
The female spends most of the time on the nest, and Dad brings back food. The adults tear off small pieces and gently drop them into the hungry eaglets’ mouths. Eagles, unlike many other kinds of birds, do not regurgitate food for their young. The eaglets get whole, undigested foods that the parents simply tear into bite size pieces. Young eaglets can add a pound every four to five days. In just a few short weeks, these youngsters will be 4-5 times their hatch size.
With all that eating, you would think there’d be an awful lot of .. ahem.. poop … in the nest, right?
Well, these clever young eagles don’t want to be sitting in their own mutes (that’s the special name given to eagle poop). So, as Scott noted in last week’s blog, eaglets can actually shoot their poop, 6-8 feet! They simply lift that tiny tail, and watch out – they fire out their mutes. That means even from the center of a great big eagle’s nest that might be eight feet across – these youngsters can keep the nest free and clear of their own waste. They can probably even hit that camera – so watch out!
At three-four weeks, they’ll be walking (or wobbling) around the nest and Mom and Dad will be able to leave the nest for short periods to find food, or simply perch on a branch nearby.
At about one month, they will begin to grow black feathers to replace their original downy coat. The feathers begin to grow in at the head, tail and wingtips. At this stage, you can see the feather shaft – which appears white, as the black feather extends from it. These are called ‘blood feathers’ as the shaft is filled with a blood supply to the growing feather. When growth is complete, the blood supply will dry up and the shaft will be hollow. Growing feathers requires a lot of energy. This is a key stage in development, when they will require the greatest food intake. Mom and Dad will be busy!
These young eagles already have feet and beaks nearly the size of their parents. But it will take a few more weeks before they grow into them! As they develop, Mom and Dad let the youngsters tear up their own food. The eaglets gain strength and skills they will need to survive.