My mother was an amazing woman in so many ways. Dad never made a lot of money but she always found a way to stretch what little we had to insure that my five siblings and myself had what we needed to get by. But Mother abounded in love. She had an endless supply for everyone from her own children to the hobo man knocking on the back door. (For you younger readers, “hobo” is a now nonpolitically correct term for a homeless person. It is an abbreviation of the words “homeward bound” and referred to men who were down on their luck, substance abusers, unemployed, adventurers…or for some other reason wandering from town to town, often travelling by boxcar on their way to wherever and whatever “home” was to them.) Mom never turned a hungry person away without some bit of food. My mother was rich in compassion and we children feasted on her bounty.
What does all this have to do with eagles?
Well, another thing that Mother was rich in was adages. She had a tried and tested saying for every situation and she flung them freely when the need arose. One of her favorite adages was, “A watched pot never boils.” Whenever I was anxiously awaiting something or someone she would throw those words in my direction to draw me away from the window. It was her way of telling me to relax and the allow time to pass.
The memory of her words repeatedly ripped through the air of Eastwood as I have sat and watched our eaglets over the last two weeks. Around 5 weeks of age eaglets are fully feathered and as large as their adult parents. They technically may have the capability to fly but they lack the coordination, muscle tone, experience and confidence to leave the nest successfully. I have read that the window for fledging the nest is around age 70 to 92 days. Our oldest eaglets typically fledge around 84 to 86 days after hatching with their younger siblings following suit a few days later (near their 84th to 86th day.) That first flight is the major hurdle in a young eagle’s life and I always grow impatient as I wait for the time to pass. So there I sat at the park watching the pot refuse to boil.
I knew things were progressing in that direction though. Jim and Cindy were now seldom seen in the nest. A careful search of the well field might reveal one or both of them atop a nearby tree. Food delivery to the youngsters had grown more random and less frequent as Mom and Dad seemed to encourage hunger to be a motivator for flight. Jim had begun to visit his favorite off-season perch again and Cindy (looking a bit dirty and tattered from her mothering duties) was seen passing over Eastwood with a pesky Eastern Kingbird escort.
The youngsters were also showing signs of restlessness. Often they would play in the air above the Treetop Palace strengthening their muscles and skills in short vertical flights to nowhere. Like children forced to share a bedroom, the massive nest had grown too small for their compatibility and they were using their newfound branching abilities to get away from one another.
Each morning I counted the days since they had hatched. One by one those days passed by and the water in the pot grew hotter. I tried to heed Mother’s words but, now that I think of it, I wasn’t too good at it back then either. Monday was day 84. Tuesday was day 85. Today was day 86 and when I arrived at Eastwood this morning I saw this!
A lone eaglet in the nest! Was the other one hiding in the branches? Not that I could see. Then I saw Mom or Dad deliver a fish to the nest and fly off, twice! In years past I have noticed that after one eaglet fledges from the aerie Jim or Cindy will take food to the nest as if to keep the remaining eaglets occupied while they watch over the novice flyer. And they will watch over it, bringing food to wherever it perches and encouraging it to fly again. Sometimes a recently fledged eaglet will end up on the ground and have difficulty getting airborne again. This situation can prove deadly for the young eagle as it is vulnerable to predators and parasites. An intervening human approaching the grounded youngster will be severely chastised by the protective adults. Sometimes the youngster will find a suitable perch and remain there for a day or so before trying to fly again, eventually making its way back to the nest. I will let you know how successful this year’s fledging process has been as it progresses and I can verify the results.
For now I have to decide if the “pot” is half empty or half full but that is a whole other adage. Slowly the days have passed and I smile as I realize that somehow our Dayton eagles have stayed true to that fledging window again. I have no idea if other nests are so consistent or not but Jim and Cindy simply amaze me. And Mom, if you’re watching this proverbial pot, it’s boiling now!