By Tom Coble
A bald eagle flares its wings and lands in a nest with a rather large fish in its talon. An eaglet chick’s head appears above the rim of the nest with beak open. Dinner!
Last summer in Western Alaska, while on float trips down a wild and scenic River, we watched a pair of Eagles and their chicks for several days. Our observation times were 10 days apart, so what we saw on our first trip varied from our second.
The young eagle was developing at an incredible rate and the behavior of the parents changed significantly during this period as well.
On our first trip down the river, the chick was awkward, ugly, and completely dependent upon the parents for food and protection. His body was covered with down and flight feathers were just beginning to develop.
The parents of this bird were very attentive, with at least one of them sitting on the nest at all times. They attended to the needs of the chick constantly. That meant covering the chick during times of rain, tearing meat from the prey provided and defending the nest if anything approached too close. At one point, we watched one of the parents do battle with an osprey who had ventured too close to the nest.
On our second trip down the river, we eagerly anticipated locating the nest and observing what changes had occurred. We found the chick much more developed as it spread its wings into the wind and flapped them for exercise. It was tearing its own food from the prey provided by the parents and sat up in the nest in all kinds of weather, by itself.
Where were the parents? Close by. They spent very little time on the nest, but one of them was in a tree, not far from the nest, watching the area. The other parent was out hunting providing food for the growing chick.
Knowing what we know about growth, development, and eagles, if we had continued to come back at ten day intervals throughout the rest of the summer, we would have found a chick taking larger and larger developmental steps, until we returned to find the nest empty. As the chick developed further, we would have observed the parents teaching, providing and protecting in different ways each time we returned.
As you look around your organization, can you identify any eagle chicks? People who, if cared for and developed, have the potential of soaring to great heights. What are you doing to attend to their care and feeding?
The eagle parents remind me that if we expect things to happen, we are often disappointed. If we contribute in the development of those we are responsible for, they often soar!
“It is the studying that you do after your school days that really counts. Otherwise you know only that which everyone else knows.” – Henry L. Doherty