While eaglets are in the nest, they are growing at incredible rates. They can double their body weight in as little as 4-5 days. Eventually, that growth will level off. Eaglets are full grown at 10-12 weeks of age. However, two things will continue to grow throughout an eagle’s life, their talons and their beak.
An eagle’s beak and talons are made of keratin. Keratin is a tough, fibrous protein that is the main structural components of hair, fingernails, horns, feathers and hooves.
In the wild the continuous use of the eagles’ talons in catching their prey and landing on a variety of surfaces, will naturally wear down their talons. Wild eagles also exhibit a behavior called “feaking,” which is when they rub their beaks on the side of a rock or a branch.Not only does this help them to clean up after a meal, it also wears down the sides of their beak so it does not get overgrown.
Our eagle ambassadors at the National Eagle Center no longer use their talons to catch and kill their prey. Since they get their meals served on a silver platter (not literally), their talons grow more quickly than they wear them down. We do provide a variety of perching surfaces to help them wear down their talons to some extent. Sometimes we have to help them with a little maintenance of the talons. It’s not that the talons get too long, so much as they get overly thick. About 2-3 times a year we soak their feet for about 24 hours which softens the excess growth. Then we can scrape off the excess growth on the talons.
It’s also important to keep their beaks in good shape. Their beak is a tool and when it is overgrown, it is a less effective tool. It can cause the bird difficulty in eating. In order to keep our bird’s beaks from getting overgrown, we “cope” them. Coping is a little bit like going to the dentist, not painful, but not their favorite activity either. We use a small tool to carefully grind of the excess growth and make sure the beak is in the ideal shape. Most often this is done on their regular visits to The Raptor Center. We want our birds to think of us fondly as the ones who bring food, not dread us like the dentist.
Two of our ambassaors, Angel the Bald Eagle and Donald the Golden Eagle had a visit to the dentist today, no not the dentist, I mean The Raptor Center!.They came through their exams just fine!