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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Up a tree with the eagle family

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

I couldn't help but notice that something big was up.

As I walked through my office, I was aware of the computer screens rapidly moving away from one screen to another. I heard the discussions, a murmur I couldn't quite make out.

Something exciting was in the air.

Finally, mid-week, I was brought into the fold, the secret was shared.

Babies were on the way.

Yep, three little ones were about to make their appearance into the world. And they had an audience, a big audience -11,167,542 people to be exact.

Yep, those bald eagles of Decorah are pretty famous.

If you haven't become a part of the internet fan club of Mom and Dad eagle, two little eaglets and the one on the way, you're one of the few, it seems.

Thanks to modern technology, a worldwide audience has been peering in to the world of the eagles, perched in their 1 ton nest atop a tree at the DNR fish hatchery near Decorah. The Raptor Resource Project maintains a pair of cameras, aimed at the nest. Live video has been streaming at http://www.ustream.tv/decoraheagles. The cameras were installed last fall, and the director of the RRP, Bob Anderson switches from an automated camera to a more advanced model, which can zoom in when there's interesting activity.

While they aren't banded, the pair of eagles on film have been together since the winter of 2007-2008. This is their fourth set of babies they've had together.

Both the CBS and NBC national news on Sunday night highlighted the northeast Iowa phenomenon. That drove even more viewers to the site.

And there was a lot to see. Two babies hatched- gray, fuzzy handfuls, with awkward heads that seemed too big for their bodies. On Saturday, I admit I was fascinated to watch Mom tear flesh from a particularly dead-looking bunny and feed to her baby. Sunday brought my first view of the second hatchling.

I wasn't alone in watching over the weekend. The video feed has been reporting over 100,000 visitors at any one time and, when the first chick hatched on Saturday, the site crashed due to the overwhelming volume trying to catch a glimpse.

It's not just Iowans watching the birds. According to Anderson, viewers from over 130 countries have logged on. Teachers are using the video in classes.

Why the attention?

Well, it wasn't that long ago that eagles were endangered. By the 1950s, there were only 412 nesting pairs in the 48 contiguous states, with the chemical DDT blamed in large part for the decline. In 1995, the eagle was moved from "endangered" to "threatened" status, and in 2007, it was de-listed. It remains a protected species.

Our national bird, it certainly inspires more awe than Ben Franklin's suggestion -- the turkey. And, the sight of an eagle in flight continues to amaze. A couple of summers ago, our neighborhood was home for a while to eagles. I watched with delight as they stopped for lunch on a carrion in a field. And, with ice out of the rivers, the area around Linn Grove is a home to eagles every year.

And yet, despite their resurgence, we just can't get enough of those parents and their babies in the tree in Iowa. And, I guess, with the depressing news on the television, with wars, and heartache, it's nice to take a look at a family just starting out. Parental devotion, sharing of duties by parents, bringing home the "bacon" -- well, fish and animals, and family squabbles are seen on our screens.

And we just can't seem to get enough.

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Paula Buenger