For the last week, I’ve been kept company during the day by a family of bald eagles in Decorah, Iowa. I and approximately 100,000 other folks (at any given moment) across the world. This is possible because of the internets; truly, we live in the future, and it rocks. You can watch them 24 hours a day, if you wish.
There is a mama and 3 fuzzy gray eaglets, and evidently there’s a Mr. Eagle as well. He seems to show up after 5, usually having picked up whatever little eagles eat on the way home from work like my dad used to bring home Burger King (Whopper, no onions), and Mom then leaves the nest to stretch her wings or to get her own dinner while Dad feeds the kids strips of whatever critter met its recent end.
The eaglets were already hatched by the time I found out about them, but they’re still pretty new, and not quite sure how to use their own feet yet, let alone navigate their nesty world with them. They are cute and floppy, and seem to be easily tired out by the effort of holding their own heads up. You can find them face-planted in the nest on a regular basis, seemingly unbothered by their mother sitting on them. “We are TIRED, man. This living thing is hard work! Whatevs.”
I feel ya, kid.
This is the second nest I’ve watched; last spring, it was a pair of baby hummingbirds in a rosebush somewhere. It’s so cool to watch the birds, but frequently I’m reminded that nature is cruel as I do. Last year, tens of thousands of people watched as a crow stalked the hummingbird nest, and then reached in, stabbed an unhatched egg with its beak, and took off with it. Those who were emotionally invested, (which is pretty much anyone who’s willing to watch a nest of birds every day for weeks until the babies fledge), were stricken and heartbroken.
This year, the cruelty of nature appears in the carcass that sits for days in a corner of the nest for the parental eagles to pick at and feed their kids. (“Leftovers again?”) On the one hand, I understand that that’s what eagles eat, and it’s cute to watch the little babies crane their floppy necks to get their lunch. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure that I would’ve thought whatever it was they’re eating (it’s impossible to tell at this point) was too cute to meet such an end.
But what really killed me was watching dinnertime the other night. There are 3 eaglets, two of which are noticeably larger than the third. I watched as Mama Eagle shoved piece after piece of meat into the two bigger ones’ beaks. The little one was hungry, too, but somehow, he kept getting passed by. “One for Timmy, one for Sally; one for Timmy, two for Sally.” Little Winston, situated between the two of them, watched the meat go by and did his best to get into position, but still his mother ignored him. He was slightly behind his siblings, and had a wing on each of their backs, pushing with all his tiny might to get closer to the food, but they wouldn’t let him through, and it seemed his mother wasn’t about to help him out.
I watched. I worried. He was the littlest one, and needed the food the most; was he just going to be ignored? He tried harder, pushing his weak little body between Timmy and Sally, but they, being only slightly more mobile, weren’t budging, and Winston wore himself out, and stopped trying for awhile. He collapsed onto the nest and put his head down. I worried that the mother was rejecting him, and he was going to starve to death. And I didn’t want to see that; but more than that, I didn’t want it to happen. I was literally holding my breath in a state of controlled panic, willing him to try again, willing that mama to feed him.
Winston, however, was just taking a breather, and he tried again, a little more insistent this time, and eventually he caught his mother’s attention, and a few bits of meat. Not as much as the other kids, but he did get some, and I was so relieved. Two weeks ago, I didn’t know these eagles existed; now I’m worrying about their nutrition.
I get attached. Easily. Which is why I have one of these.
Three days later, Winston isn’t catching up. He’s still the smallest, if today’s snack is any indication, having a hard time getting his share of the dinner, and I’m still worried. Forget the circle of life; I want my baby eagles to live. Especially Winston.