Monday, 30 July 2012

Now you see her, now you don't!

Well, last week saw some interesting goings on at the Sea Eagle Nest. Previously I reported that our largest chick (thought to be a female) fledged from the nest leaving her smaller sibling to spend time putting on weight and growing down his(?) last flight feathers before fledging himself. All seemed to be normal with food being brought into the remaining chick by the parent birds, and it appeared to be putting on weight and growing apace.

And then, on Wednesday the older chick suddenly appeared back on the nest, much to the surprise of its sibling. Not only that but it stayed throughout Wednesday and Thursday. This is unusual behaviour, as once the birds fledge it is unusual for them to return to the nest. Our theory is that the older chick worked out that the adults were feeding its sibling, therefore there must be food at the nest. Sure enough, the first time the adult male came in with food for the smaller chick (a large, wriggling eel), the fledgling shoulder-barged it out of the way and grabbed the food for itself. As before, the small chick immediately retreated to the other side of the nest, once again intimidated by its sister. However, this time the fledgling failed, as in her haste to grab the prey it escaped and fell onto the side of the nest where it was grabbed again by the adult male who quickly swallowed it whole.

Soon after the female came in with what looked like a Fulmar and delivered it straight to the smaller chick whilst blocking the fledgling so that her brother could eat in peace. Both adults then remained at the nest for the rest of the day, mediating between their chicks. After I'd left the hide one of the adults must have brought in a rabbit, as the following morning the smaller chick was pulling at the remains of a rabbit leg; who knows which chick got the lion's share of that meal!
Fingal with food for a hungry young eagle
Photo by kind permission of Chris Stone
 The following day the whole scenario was repeated, with at least one adult around to see fair play, though later in the day they both took off, presumably to hunt for themselves, and although I stayed at the hide until gone 9pm neither of them returned to the nest. Both chicks were at the nest all day, but my colleague - FCS Wildlife Ranger Steve Irvine - reported that on Friday only the younger chick was there with an adult visiting the nest and then sitting higher in the tree keeping watch. Maybe the older chick got the message that trying to steal food from her sibling was not to be encouraged by her parents.

The chicks are now a little over twelve weeks old and it won't be too long before the second young eagle fledges. I can't wait to watch them learning to fly strongly and hunt for themselves - with a little help from their parents, of course.


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