I’ve been watching four nest cams for several weeks. The first was a Bald Eagle nest in the Blackwater Wildlife Refuge near Cambridge, MD on the Eastern Shore. This was an important nest to me because it’s on the Chesapeake Bay and a day trip from the cottage we’ve rented for fifteen years. The pair laid three eggs, and two hatched. It was exciting to watch these two tiny eaglets, but we had really bad weather with record cold temperatures. First one eaglet died. Then the other one, which had been eating and doing well, was not covered by the inexperienced father one freezing night, and died. This was my first lesson in letting go of attachments this nesting season. I was attached to these two eaglets and to the notion that I’d watch them grow until they fledged out of view of the camera. Then I’d be able to get updates on how the young eagles were during from the Blackwater Wildlife Refuge site and from their Facebook Page. I could go down there and perhaps spot them in my binoculars. However, in one night, the eagle nest season at Blackwater was over. It’s a lesson in permanence. There is none.
I’m also watching a Great Horned Owl nest cam on Skidaway Island, Savannah, Georgia. This has quickly become my favorite nest because both owlets are doing well, and they are so much fun to watch. The older owlet is not dominating the younger one. The baby is very feisty and doesn’t take any crap off its older sibling. It has swallowed mice and snakes whole before the older one gets a bite. At the risk of anthropomorphizing, I’d say these two are buddies. Judging from the comments I’ve read, (there are currently over 2700 comments) a lot of the viewers feel the same. We’ve watched these two little owlets huddle together during 40 MPH winds and rain storms. They preen each other, and are rarely inches apart. With Great Horned Owls, both parents are involved in the care of their chicks. The father stands guard, hunts, and briefly stops on the nest to drop off prey. The mother keeps the chicks warm until they are able to regulate their body temperatures, and then she is off hunting, too. And what a huntress she is! She has brought back snakes, mice, squirrels, and all kinds of birds, including a good sized crane. She feeds the owlets, and she covers them for protection. Crows frequently harass the nest, and I’ve seen her and the older owlet click their beaks in defense. Elaine Mercy W. posted a video when something large was circling the nest, possibly an eagle, and the mother completely fanned her wings and tail over her babies and puffed herself up into the scariest defense posture possible. The look in her eyes could kill. I wouldn’t mess with her. So, can you tell that I’m attached to these owls? When the owlets stretch and flap their wings now to build up their muscles for flying, their wing span has gotten so big, they are practically knocking each other off the nest. They’ll start branching in about two weeks. This is when they hop out onto the branches in preparation for their first flight. The parents will bring them food out on the branch until they fly and learn to hunt for themselves. Once the owlets branch, they will be out of view of the camera. The nest followers are already posting how sad they will be to lose their daily fix of these owlets. I will be, too. But nothing is permanent. Even if both owlets make it into full adulthood, their chances of survival are not guaranteed.
There’s another Bald Eagle nest cam on the Berry College campus northwest of Atlanta, Georgia with over 5000 people chatting about it. It has two eaglets. The older, larger one has been aggressive about getting fed first. This is simply instinct, but not so easy to watch. Eaglets have been known to commit sibilicide in order to get enough to eat. They may push the smaller eaglet out of the nest or peck at it enough that it just gives up and dies. The older Berry College eaglet has pounded on its smaller sibling so that now the younger one waits passively until the older eaglet is full and waddles off to sleep. Then the mother feeds the younger eaglet, which looks like it’s hanging in there so far despite its lower status in the nest. The eaglets are so awkward at this point. Their feet/talons and wings are too big for their bodies. At times, it is comical to see them struggle around the nest, but it’s difficult for me to watch this site as often because I get too upset about the smaller chick. I’m attached to things being fair. Food should be evenly distributed, but the eagle will feed the older, bigger eaglet because it has the better chance of surviving.
The last cam I’m watching is on a Bald Eagle nest in Hanover, Pa. There are currently over 3000 comments on this page. Two eggs were laid about a month after the eggs in the Blackwater nest. They should begin hatching in a few days. The mother has had twelve successful nests with her mate, who died last year. She has a new mate this season, and he’s doing a great job. Both Bald Eagle parents share the duties of incubation. During the last big snow storm when it was the father’s turn to sit on the eggs, the mother let him take over, but after a few minutes, she pushed him off. She didn’t leave her eggs for close to two days. At times she was so completely covered with snow that she wasn’t visible. This is an example of remarkable parenting. I can’t help but wonder if the last eaglet in the Blackwater nest would have survived if it had these Hanover parents instead.
The Annie Crow Knoll series is filled with birds found on the Chesapeake. The power of nature is a recurring theme in the novels. My play A Thing with Feathers (I also wrote a screenplay version) is about a wild bird rehabilitator in Cape May Point, NJ. My husband and I have been birders for close to twenty years. We’ve raised two Cockatiels over the past twenty-five years. I love to watch birds at the feeders in the yard at home and at the cottage. When I’m on the Eastern Shore and lucky enough to witness a Bald Eagle fly out across the bay, I marvel at the extreme beauty and power. There’s nothing quite like it. Having the opportunity to see these eagles and owls raise their young via the nest cams is miraculous. Birds are hardy and delicate at the same time. What I come away with over and over again is that life is fragile. Nothing is permanent. When I let go of attachments, I am able to live in the present moment.
I’d like to hear about your successes and struggles with letting go of attachments.
Do you watch any nest cams? Where? What lessons are there to be learned from the birds?
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