Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Taking Flight

Since I first discovered the Nest Cam for the Decorah Eagles, I've visited almost every day.  Watching those ugly little creatures go from completely dependent mouths with small bodies attached to the HUGE still-dependent birds that they are today has reminded me of all the parenting pluses and minuses.

When they were brand new and horribly needy, both parents fed them, and couldn't get there fast enough with more fish.  The babies slept a lot and didn't move around much.  At first one parent was on the nest almost all the time and the other brought food to the sitting parent.  It reminded me of how, after my first born arrived via emergency extraction, my husband had to care for all my needs as I tried to heal and care for our daughter.

After a few days, the parents would both be gone periodically.  When they returned, one would arrange him or herself over the top of the three chicks to keep them warm and protect them.  Some of the best moments were when it was pouring rain.  The adult bald eagle sat there, hunkered down against the elements, doing what he/she was designed to do -- protecting the babies.  Isn't that what we did as new parents?  Huddling over and gathering in our little ones?

As they grew, the adult eagle was able to cover less and less of the chicks -- even though an adult bald eagle is one of the largest birds out there!  I look at my over six-foot tall son and marvel that he was ever inside me!

It is rare for a bald eagle's nest to hold three eggs, much less to have all three survive those first few weeks.  Each morning I clicked anxiously to see whether they were all still moving.  I'd try to will the adult bird to move off the nest so I could count the fluff balls.  I'd excitedly call out to my family, "STILL THREE!"

Today, the eagle chicks are the equivalent of teens.  They're so big that the nest that used to look like the size of an aircraft carrier looks instead like a crowded parking lot.  The parents don't really enter the nest much, but drop by to feed.  The chicks are aggressive with the food, but not with each other.  While I don't feed my kids through "fly by" events, the competition for the parents' attention (i.e. food) is quite familiar.  Even when my teens don't act like they want my attention, they're still competing for it.  And I have to say the insatiable desire for food does describe my son pretty accurately.

The eaglets like to sit on the very edge of the nest with their backs to the big world outside -- just like my almost-college daughter who alternates between being ready to go and not quite ...  Each of them practices flapping their wings and jumps around the nest doing it while the other two look annoyed at being jumped on.  (It actually reminds me of moon bounces!).  This reminds me of when one of my kids is pushing the envelope with us and the other looks on with annoyance at the fuss being created.

This is not the Decorah eagles, but still a great photo of a pair of adults.
Photo by Hal Korber/PGC Photo

At this point, the eagle chicks are more of a danger to themselves than at any other time.  The flexing of wings and practice flying can take them right over the edge to danger.  Just like our human children, the exercise of their autonomy is fraught with danger, but necessary for their growth.  I was just watching and the oldest of the chicks looked like he(?) was about to take flight -- but then he saw an interesting stick and backed down.  Reminds me of "I'm going, I'm going, I'm going .... oooh, look, something shiny!"
Still -- soon the chicks will fledge -- they will make their first flight.  It will happen without classroom instruction or flyer's education training.  One minute they'll be exercising their wings and the next they'll be on a different branch or on the ground.  Around 40% do not survive their first flight, so with three of them making it this far, they've already beaten the odds for eaglet survival.  My prayer is that they will all do fine on their first flight and subsequent flights and grow up to make more eagle pairs.

Even after they leave the nest, they will not be able to feed themselves for several months.  The parents will land on the branch near them and feed them.  This is similar to my child leaving for college, but me still making sure the dining hall bills are paid. She may think she's independent, but the reality is that she will still need my support -- and I'll have to come to her branch, rather than her coming back into the nest.

I love that the Raptor Resource Project underwrites this opportunity for us to vicariously participate in the parenting of the eaglets.  This has been a precious opportunity to see God's design for how we are to raise our children evidenced in His creation.  Through it, He instructs and shows us, how to love, nurture, protect, discipline and when it's time .... let go.


Sweet Tea said...

I had no idea. Fascinating info about the eagles.

Mary said...

There is an eagle cam at Dollywood. When I went last week with my sister, I was fascinated to see them in person. Beautiful birds!