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Shelby Township

Eaglets banded and ready to fledge

June 30, 2014

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The three female eaglets at Stony Creek Metropark sit in the nest after being banded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department May 28. Birders present said they were surprised at how calm the eaglets remained during the process.

SHELBY TOWNSHIP — The three eaglets that hatched around Easter are not so little anymore. At the time the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service banded the birds May 28, they weighed about 9, 8 and 6 pounds, respectively.

Stony Creek Metropark Nature Center volunteer bird expert Ruth Glass said the three eaglets are estimated to begin fledging on the Fourth of July — a coincidence that America’s national bird would fly the nest on the country’s birthday.

On May 28, the banding revealed that the three eaglets were all female and were born five days apart.

The group assembled at about 9 a.m. at the Inwood Trails parking lot near the nest and had to wait in their cars for about half an hour due to heavy rain, but once weather conditions lightened, birder Joan Bonin said the scientists were efficient. She said the whole process wrapped up by noon.

Arizona-based Teryl Grubb, of the U.S. Forest Service, climbed the tree in which the eagle nest was located and lowered each eaglet in a nylon bag to biologists. When he got his first peek into the nest, Glass said, Grubb laughingly recounted that the eldest eaglet was sitting on the youngest like she was riding a pony backwards.

Therese and Dave Best, a retired couple from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, were waiting below with equipment to measure, test and sample each bird. They took feather samples, blood samples and many measurements, including the eaglets’ beaks and wingspans.

“They were really quite calm — amazingly calm,” Glass said. “The biologist remarked the one bird in particular, probably the oldest or second oldest, was the most serene bird he’d ever seen.”

Nonetheless, the biologists still placed a baseball cap over the birds’ faces as they handled them so the eaglets would not be afraid. As a precaution for their own safety, the biologists also wrapped the eaglets’ talons in elastic bandages.

“The banding experience was an opportunity of a lifetime,” said Bonin, who tries to make it to the nest at least every other day. “We hiked through the brush in the rain to the nest. There was a lot of swamp area. It was really neat.”

Until that point, Stony Creek birders had only been able to watch the nest from, at the very closest, a quarter of a mile away. Trespassing any closer to a bald eagle nest is a felony offense punishable by a $5,000 fine.

“The (eagle) adults were both very close by and flew around the whole time (we were near the nest),” Bonin said. “They squawked and chirruped and they carried on, but they never attacked — just flew around worrying.”

She said it also was interesting to see the failed nest attempts of the eagles, evidenced by the myriad scattered sticks around the base of the tree.

Most recently, Bonin said the older eaglets have been flapping and exercising their wings. On a hot day last week, she said they were lying in the nest, panting and “being dramatic.”

“The Fourth of July may be the day (they fledge). I’m going to stand vigil all next week from 9 to dark,” she said. “This is probably going to span a 10-day period.”

Bonin said the eaglets would grow the white telltale bald eagle head feathers when they are approximately five years old and have reached sexual maturity. Bonin added that she hoped the young eagles would stay in the area.

“I’m just very relieved and thankful that this nesting season went as well as it did,” Glass said. “We couldn’t have asked for a better result, given the weather conditions and such earlier this spring. I would’ve never believed it if you told me back then that we’d have three huge, healthy baby eaglets sitting up there.”

About the author

Staff Writer Sarah Wojcik covers Shelby Township and Utica for the Shelby-Utica News. Sarah has worked for C & G Newspapers since 2013 and attended Oakland University. She won a first place 2013 Excellence in Journalism award for open government reporting and a second place 2014 Excellence in Journalism award for a series of explanatory stories from the Detroit chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

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