Let the nesting season begin, in spite of the cold


With the polar vortex still fresh on our minds, it almost seems silly to discuss nesting birds. But the nesting season begins in January for bald eagles and great horned owls.

An egg was laid in an eagle nest on the campus of Berry College in Georgia, Jan. 14. And in Pittsburgh a pair of bald eagles put the finishing touches on a new nest just this week. The female will almost certainly lay her eggs before the end of the month.

Monitor the Pittsburgh eagle nest at www.pixcontroller.com/eagles/.


Last year the Pittsburgh eagles caused quite a sensation among birders and non-birders alike. The nest is less than five miles from downtown, along the Monongahela River, near Hays. As word of the nest spread, it was covered by television, radio and newspapers. Unfortunately the nest collapsed shortly after the young eagle fledged. This year the new nest is in a better location in a bigger tree.

As I watched the nest Thursday morning, both parents were rearranging sticks in the nest as snow flurried. Heavy equipment could be heard in the background. Gone are the days of bald eagles being considered a species of remote wilderness.

Observing owls

Great horned owls are the other species that begin nesting in January. I’ve been hearing a pair singing to each other since before Christmas. The song is a series of five to seven “hoots,” with the female’s voice being a bit higher pitched.

In Oklahoma City a pair of great horned owls has adopted a second story planter ledge as their nest site. The homeowners use the nest as part of the science curriculum for home schooling their daughter.

Last year the owls fledged two young. This year the first egg appeared Jan. 10; the second eggs arrived three days later.

Monitor this nest at www.birdnote.org/nestcam/great-horned-owl-nestcam-oklahomacity. There’s even a clip of the female laying the second egg.

Bald eagles and great horned owls nest early because they need so much time to raise a family. Typical clutch size is two or three eggs, and two days usually separates the laying of each egg.

Incubation can last up to 35 days, and the young remain in the nest for up to 10 weeks. After fledging, young bald eagles and great horned owls are cared for by their parents for several months until they become independent. That leaves the juvenile birds just a month or two to perfect their hunting skills before winter arrives.

Bigger birds

Seen singly and at a distance, a bald eagle’s size is deceptive, but these are huge birds. They stand about 31 inches tall, have a 6.5 ft. wingspan, and weight almost 10 pounds.

Great horned owls, on the other hand, are big for an owl, but dwarfed by a bald eagle. Great horned owls stand about 22 inches tall, have a 3.5-foot wingspan, and weigh just three pounds.

To find more nest cams as the nesting season approaches, search online for [species of interest] nest cam” and fill in the blank with a species of interest. Cavity-nesting birds are particularly easy to video, so there are many nest cams for bluebirds, barn owls, kestrels and other cavity-nesters.

Coming soon

More that I know will be coming online this spring include great blue herons and red-tailed hawks in New York, ospreys in New Jersey, peregrine falcons in many locations, kestrels in Idaho, bluebirds in Pennsylvania and loons in Minnesota.

For one of my favorite nest cams, visit www.phoebeallens.com. This camera is trained on an Allen’s hummingbird nest in Orange County, California. The nesting season runs from October through May when Phoebe may raise as many as four broods.

The nest is located in a rose bush in the host’s backyard. The nest cam has been up since 2007, and millions from around the world have watched this nest.

Thanks to webcams, anyone with an Internet connection can observe active bird nests for the next eight months. Enjoy.



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Scott Shalaway, who holds a Ph.D. in wildlife ecology from Michigan State University, writes from his home in rural West Virginia. A former faculty member at Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma Biological Station, he has been writing a weekly nature column for newspapers and freelancing for magazines since 1986. He can be heard on Birds & Nature from 3-4 p.m. Sunday afternoons on 620 KHB Radio, Pittsburgh, or live online anywhere at www.khbradio.com, or on the Tune-In radio app. Visit his website at www.drshalaway.com or contact him directly at sshalaway@aol.com or 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033.



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