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Shelby Township

Three eaglets confirmed in Stony Creek nest

May 14, 2014

» click to enlarge «
Three eaglets sit in the bald eagle nest at Stony Creek Metropark May 8.
The eaglets are visible in their nest May 10.

SHELBY TOWNSHIP — During the evening May 5, Joan Bonin decided to shoot one last video of the bald eagle nest located off Stony Creek Metropark’s Inwood Trails and captured something unexpected.

Along with the two known eaglets, a third, smaller bird reared its head for a taste of prey from its mother.

“(The older two eaglets’) heads were right there together, and it went on for a minute. Then, the third head popped up,” Bonin said. “I tell you, it was the most exciting and thrilling thing I think I’ve ever seen. My heart just fluttered.”

On May 9, she said the newest addition is “but a fluffy ball of yellow.” She said either the adults are keeping it separated from its bigger siblings or it is choosing to do so.

The middle eaglet, she said, is a grayish yellow and hangs out with the oldest sibling, and while she said she’s seen them pick at each other, it doesn’t appear to be anything serious.

The oldest is darker gray, apparently molting, and no longer looks like a newly hatched chick, Bonin said.

“Mom and Dad continue walking around with talons all balled up, (which is) hard walking for them, and I frequently see them catch their balance when taking a misstep,” she said. The parents ball up their talons so as not to injure the eaglets. “They are doting parents. I feel confident all three little ones will survive.”

Bonin, a “serious amateur photographer” for the last 35-plus years, said she began following the Stony Creek eagles after a chance encounter with the male adult eagle on April 2, 2013, near the bridge on 28 Mile Road, between Mount Vernon and Mound roads.

She discovered that the eagle resided in Stony Creek with its mate. The couple raised one eaglet last year, which made headlines throughout Macomb County.

Now, Bonin is at the 10-foot tall, several-hundred-pound nest every day, if she can, and at least every other day.

“It’s addictive,” she said. “We were so thrilled to have one last year, and now we have three. What an adventure this is going to be to watch these guys grow up.”

Ruth Glass, Stony Creek Metropark’s volunteer bird expert, said she was surprised that the little eagle heads were visible on Monday and that she had believed it would’ve been another week.

However, she said she is concerned that there are three offspring.

“Even though they’re good parents, survivability in the third bird in the case of raptors in general is something less than 50 percent,” Glass said.

The third bird, she said, is at a disadvantage because its siblings are larger and stronger, since eagle eggs are laid and hatched several days apart.

“Typically, when the parent flies up to the nest, the bigger birds lunge toward the food and the smaller one has trouble getting enough food,” she said. “Eaglets are also notorious for picking on each other, so there’s a double whammy there.”

Glass estimated that the birds hatched around Easter weekend and, according to her calculations, would be able to fly the nest around the Fourth of July, almost 11 weeks later.

“Seriously — that’s really weird,” she said in a phone interview moments after calculating the fledge date. “(The holiday is about) independence, and here we have the great American symbol.”

The next notable date, she said, would be their banding by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).

The Stony Creek eagle nest is on the high priority list of young to band this year, Glass said — one of few nests in the state.

She said the Stony Creek eagle nest is the only one in the Clinton River watershed, so the test results would provide environmental implications regarding toxins and the state of the area.

The adult eagles, she added, are doing great. Because of warmer temperatures, they both leave the nest to hunt at the same time.

One incident, captured in photographs by Mark Scarlett, caught many birders’ attention.

Around 7 p.m. April 18, Scarlett had his telescopic camera lens focused on the eagle nest when a large juvenile eagle flew near the nest and tried to land. He said the adult eagles had to chase it off several times before it left.

Good Friday was also the day Glass believes the first eaglet hatched.

Glass said that, while it is not possible to be certain, she believes the juvenile eagle is the eaglet the couple reared last year.

“My gut feeling is that it was her,” she said. “I can’t imagine another eagle fly up and go park itself in a nest it doesn’t know.”

Glass said word of the eaglets spread like wildfire, and a large volume of regular birders and newly interested individuals have frequented the wetland trail loop, located off the Stony Creek Metropark Nature Center’s Habitat Trail.

“It’s actually a good thing to have increased traffic because it’s less likely that somebody will violate the barrier when other people are there watching,” she said. “I think the public should come out and enjoy it. (The eaglets) are a very special treat that should be appreciated while they’re here.”

Nesting season will last until September, and the eastern half of the wetland loop trail has been closed since Feb. 26

The USFWS maintains that 220 yards — an eighth of a mile — is the absolute closest distance permissible to a bald eagle nest site. Encroachment or disturbance violations typically carry a $5,000 fine.

The USFWS and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources recommend a viewing distance of 440 yards — a quarter of a mile.

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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