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Decorah Eagle Cam

Dear Bird Folks,

When we have some extra time in class, our teacher lets us watch a webcam of an eagle’s nest in Decorah, Iowa. She puts it up on the Smart Board so we can all see it at the same time. We decided that the eagle sitting on the nest is the mother and the one bringing the food is the father. Are we right?

– 5th grade class, Eastham Elementary School


Take it easy, EES,

I know about eagles, but what are these “webcams” and “Smart Board” you mentioned? Are they some kind of electronic viewing devices? Well, whatever. It’s still pretty cool that while sitting in your classroom, you were able to see a live eagles’ nest. When I was in the 5th grade the only thing we got to watch was John Glenn being sent into space. And believe me, we didn’t watch it on a Smart Board. Our teacher brought in her black and white TV from home, plugged it in, attached the rabbit ears (ask your grandparents) and we all gazed at blurry static. If we looked closely, and used our imaginations, we could make out the rocket ship sitting on the launching pad. Although it could have been a lighthouse, shrouded in fog…on that TV it was hard to tell for sure.

I was only kidding about not know anything about Smart Boards and webcams. While I’ve never used a Smart Board, I’m constantly watching birds’ nests via webcams. Nest webcams (for anyone who isn’t in the 5th grade) are small cameras that show nesting birds and are typically viewed on computer screens. Webcams are a great way to learn more about birds’ nesting habits…and to waste hundreds of hours of my time every week. This winter I watched Florida’s “Ozzie and Harriet,” a nesting pair of Bald Eagles that were named after the stars of an old TV show and not the Osbournes (again, ask your grandparents). I was so obsessed with these birds that I actually stopped in to see Ozzie and Harriet, and their nest, this past January while I was birding in Florida. (They are a very nice couple, but didn’t talk much.) Because Florida is always warm, Harriet’s chicks were fledged by mid-winter and soon I didn’t have anything to watch. Then I heard about those eagles in Iowa and I was back staring at my computer screen 24/7.

The mating ritual of a Bald Eagle couple is nothing short of spectacular. The pair will soar high in the air, fly towards each other and then suddenly lock talons like they’re about to participate in a mid-air arm wrestling contest. With their claws locked tight, the birds begin to fall to earth, spiraling around and around, looking like skydivers with malfunctioning parachutes. Watching this ritual is both exciting and scary. When it appears the entire event is going to have a very ugly ending, the birds, only a few feet from crashing to the ground, release each other from their death grips and resume normal flight. Whew!

After a series of other less heart-stopping mating displays, the pair gets busy repairing last year’s nest. Even if the nest doesn’t need any repairs, the birds do it anyway. These compulsive builders add lots of new sticks each spring and this can cause their nests to become ridiculously huge. Eagles’ nests have been reported to be over twenty feet deep and weigh several tons, making their nests the largest of any North American bird.

When it comes to raising a family, not all birds follow the same rules. With hummingbirds and turkeys, the females do all the work and the lazy males totally avoid all of their parental duties. But as we learned in the movie, The March of the Penguins, sometimes it’s the males that do 100% of the incubating and early child rearing. Unlike hummingbirds, turkeys, penguins and TV’s Ozzie and Harriet, eagles are the ultimate modern couple. Not only do both adults help with nest construction and repair, both birds share in incubating the eggs and brooding the chicks (keeping the babies warm and protected from the elements), plus they split the hunting and feeding chores. They only thing the male eagles don’t help out with is the laundry. They hate doing laundry. Since both Bald Eagles look alike and have similar habits, it’s hard to tell the male from the female. However, there is a big size difference between the two. As with most birds of prey, the female eagles are considerably larger than the males. The females are about 25% heavier than their spouses. (I almost made a joke here, but wisely changed my mind. I’m learning.)

In addition to the Decorah, Iowa eagle’s nest, several other equally awesome webcams can be found on the Internet. One of my favorites is National Audubon’s puffin cam. Atlantic Puffins’ nests are hidden in underground burrows. Because puffins only lay one egg, they just one chick. (Duh!) So it’s a little sad to watch one lonely baby puffin, sitting underground all by itself, with no siblings to play with or talk to. But at least it gets a lot of reading done…which is very important, as any teacher will tell you.

It’s great that your teacher lets your class watch the eagle cam. You have the best teacher ever. And don’t forget, the Bald Eagle is our national bird. So watching an eagle’s nest is both educational and patriotic. It’s also cool that you are able to watch the eagles on a huge Smart Board. I should get myself one. I almost bought one the other day, but the clerk in the store didn’t know how to attach the rabbit ears, so I left. Stupid clerk.