It Can Take Your Breath Away

One of the most beautiful attributes of nature is its unpredictability. You just never know what you might see. There are no carefully written Hollywood scripts, no painstakingly edited and plotted out sequences, no intentional manipulation of your thoughts and emotions… Don’t get me wrong, a few hours in the outdoors can capture your attention, and  your heart, in ways you can hardly imagine. The mundane can become spectacular in a moment, the ordinary can become extraordinary in the blink of an eye. Whether your particular outdoor setting is the exotic vistas of The Grand Canyon or the familiarity of your own backyard, the adventure is there. You may have to sit and wait, watch and listen, but it is there. All around you the wondrous story plays out. It may crawl across your hand in the form of a tiny Ladybug or soar high overhead like a majestic eagle, but it is always there.

As accustomed as I have become to encountering our local Bald Eagles, Jim and Cindy, that first glimpse of their familiar form always brings a thrill to my heart. Year after year their story opens up before me, page after page, twist after twist, their saga captures me and carries me away as if I were a leaf adrift upon the cold waters a cascading mountain stream. Their story is full of surprises. One such surprise popped up this week, not once, not twice, but three times as we counted the bobble-heads of our 5-week-old eaglets peering out from just above the rim of their aerie, as they surveyed the strange, new world below them. I have stated for weeks that with all of the hunting trips and all of the feeding going on up in their palace atop a sycamore tree, there were quite likely three eaglets this year! This image was captured from the online video feed provided by our partners at The Boonshoft Museum of Discovery.

One, two, three little bobble-heads.

One, two, three little bobble-heads.

Taking care of three eaglets is extremely demanding work. If you have followed this blog over the past several years then you know that Jim and Cindy fledged two eaglets in 2011 (their first successful nesting season), three in 2012, two last year and now three again this year. (2-3-2-3 seems like a nice pattern to me.) Not only are the demands of feeding three eaglets taxing they must also feed themselves, defend the nest and clean up the place. Eventually the youngsters will climb to the rim of the aerie, aim their backsides outward and let the whitewash fly and fall to the ground but for now the nursery/playroom floor needs a lot of care. You can still see Mom and Dad taking out the garbage and bringing home clumps of grass or clusters of greenery to freshen up the carpet a bit. In fact, caring for three eaglets can be so demanding that if something were to happen to one of the parents, wildlife officials will sometimes remove the eaglets to be raised elsewhere just to keep the surviving adult from quite literally working itself to death. Roger capture this image of Jim as he passed over Eastwood Lake this week. (Clicking on any of our images will provide a larger view.) His tattered and soiled feathers show how much wear and tear parenting can bring.

Jim, showing the signs of parenting.

Jim, showing the signs of parenting.


Since I mentioned this flyover, here is a picture of Cindy as she passed high over Eastwood yesterday. The image was captured at some distance but many of you have asked how we can tell the two adults apart when they are not together, where Cindy’s relatively larger size gives her away. The easiest way is Cindy’s notch. Clearly visible in this image, there is a notch in the white feathers of her head as they meet the dark feathers of her chest. When she is perched someplace the notch appears as an inverted-V shaped part in the white feathers. Jim has a slight curve in that same area but our girl’s notch is distinctive. Cindy is looking soiled too.

Cindy and her "notch".

Cindy and her “notch”.


Speaking of working itself to death, every year we hear reports of Bald Eagles that have had fatal encounters with poles, power lines, automobiles, even aircraft landing gear and now wind turbine plants are being unleashed to wreak their own special form of havoc on unsuspecting birds. They still say that only 50% of eaglets survive their first year. Another thing you know if you have been following this blog for very long is that I have two phrases that I repeat often. One is “Keep looking up!” and the other is “Life in the wild is wild.” There are never any guarantees. So many things can go wrong and too often do. Yesterday as I sat and watched the birds at Eastwood, I was privileged to see five separate fishing trips, well six if you count the Osprey. There was a steady, stiff breeze out of the west making it easy for larger birds to kite while hunting. (Kiting is when a bird hovers in the air while searching for prey. American Kestrels and Osprey are known for practicing this behavior.) Even a Great Blue Heron was amusingly and awkwardly attempting to kite in the breeze. On one expedition Jim was hunting on the far side of the lake. Being nesting season, many birds are extremely territorial right now and a Red-winged Blackbird along with an Eastern Kingbird were swooping at Jim and landing on his back as he flew. I had seen them do this many times before and so had Jim so he just ignored the small birds. Then a Ring-billed Gull joined in the attacks. That I had not seen before!

Pestering annoyances.

Pestering annoyances.


Still Jim went about his business, searching the choppy waters below him, catching his prey and taking it home. But what happened on the next trip gave me a lump in my throat! As Jim made yet another approach, a Red-tailed Hawk descended from above him and hit him on his back. I have also seen this behavior before and knew what was coming. After several dive-bombing attacks Jim would decide that he has had enough of the annoyance, flip over in midair, flashing his talons towards the approaching hawk and the hawk would get the idea that the game was over. Finally Jim did just that, but what neither Jim nor I had anticipated was a simultaneous gust of headwind that caused the now-inverted eagle to lose both speed and altitude, and he had no altitude to spare! As I watched in terror, Jim fell on his back into the treetops! With around 6 1/2 feet of wingspan and hollow, air-filled bones, Jim was instantly in an unexpected and very dangerous predicament. For a second or two he twisted through the branches displaying alternating flashes of dark brown and white like a Harlequin-costumed trapeze artist doing his routine.

Calamity strikes.

Calamity strikes.

Apparently unscathed by the brief ordeal he righted himself and emerged from the branches, still airborne and in screaming pursuit of the fleeing hawk.

Screaming eagle.

Screaming eagle.

A few minutes later he had taken care of business and was taking home yet another lunch to his trio of always-hungry eaglets.

Back to business.

Back to business.

Life in the wild is wild. A blustery, routine day can instantly turn into a hair-raising ordeal. A day in nature can soothe and relax you as you bask in its peacefulness or it can frighten the dickens out of you. Either way, it can take your breath away!

Published in: on May 3, 2014 at 12:47 am  Comments (21)  

21 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. What happened to the 3rd eaglette last year? I don’t remember seeing anything about it.

  2. There were only 2 in 2013 Diane, 3 in 2012 and 2 in 2011 (one of which was injured and euthanized at 100 days old.).

  3. Awesome pictures and story. Thanks!

  4. Whew! Close call on the hawk incident.

  5. Hello, First let me say thank you for the cams, and the email updates. I loved it the other day when I saw 3 little bobbles heads peek out of the nest. I am from that area and my mother lives in Enon. I will be coming up soon from Florida to visit her. So I have a few questions to ask. Where and how can I locate Jim & Cindy’s nest. I have not been to Eastwood lake in years. Also I know you can not give a date, but when do you think the babies will be close to fledge, so I can book my flight around that projected time. I want to photograph them. I look forward to hearing back from you. Thank you so much. Kathy Gillentine

  6. That must have been so terrifying for you to watch as Jim fell!!!! Wow!! I just hope he is okay and nothing is broken. I know watching the eagle cam, it shows how often both eagles fly back and forth repeatedly. That is a lot of mouths to feed!! Thanks Jim for the awesome pictures as usual!!! Polly.

  7. Hi Jim, Love the pictures & blog about our Eagles.
    I have a ? to ask you. Where do the other Eagles that you see in the area of the nest go? Do they stay in the area or go away from Dayton at night? I never hear anyone else talk about them. You have reported that some of them may be offsprings of our Eagles. This has always puzzled me because I always wonder if what I see flying are J&C or some other eagles. Keep up your great reporting, can’t wait to see the little ones as they get bigger.

  8. Great pictures and a well written article. Thank you for your narrative.

  9. I was out watching the eagles with you on April 19th (or thereabout). My husband and the dog came too. Since then I have been watching them on my Smartboard in my classroom. We were also thrilled yesterday when we counted three babies! My first graders were as excited as I was. We had only seen the two heads until then. We have learned a lot about eagles lately and it is amazing to see how much they have grown in a week! Can’t wait to see them fly.

  10. Great story, thanks for sharing.

  11. You are welcome George.

  12. Scared me for a minute but it was pretty exciting to witness Shane.

  13. You are welcome as usual Polly!

  14. I love sharing about our eagles Tricia. Thank you for tagging along with us.

  15. I am glad you liked it Kindall.

  16. Thank you for your nice comment Tricia.

  17. Hi Kathy, You cannot get closer than 1/2 mile to the nest. It’s location is detailed in several of our past posting. The short version is to simply drive to the Harshman Road end of Eastwood Lake where you will find an orange ribbon on a utility pole and another orange ribbon on the guardrail. If you stand by that pole and line up the two ribbons you will see the 7’+ nest in the treetops 1/2 mile away. There should be 5 eagles in the air by late June and they will pass over this spot to fish from the lake.

  18. Well Joyce, Jim and Cindy usually chase other adult eagles from their territory. Their oldest surviving offspring is in her 4th year so her head and tail are turning white. Juvenile eagles are quite nomadic until they mature, find a mate and begin looking for a territory of their own. Jim and Cindy get around so if you see adults in the Dayton area it is probably our love birds.

  19. I can’t wait to see them fly either Kathy. Thank you for sharing them with your first graders! My love affair with eagles began around that age. I have a PowerPoint presentation that I present to elementary students and they are always very attentive and interested. They will be really impressed with how fast they grow. Hopefully some of them can watch from home when they fledge in late June.

  20. Jim, I left a reply last week but it is gone. I wanted to know about your presentation. My first graders would love to have you visit. We have 2 weeks left. Please contact me if you are interested, Or reply and I can send contact info.

  21. I replied Kathy but apparently it vanished too. Please contact me at our address and we can work out the details.

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