Anatomy of a Bald Eagle Nest

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I took this photo of nesting eagles in Ridgefield Park three winters ago for the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission. The eagles are perched directly above the nest. If you click on the photo to enlarge, you can get a better sense of how large the nest is.

Written By: Jim Wright  for Duke Farms and Conserve Wildlife Foundation

Our 2015 nesting season story thus far:  The female Bald Eagle has laid two eggs this season, on 2/16-17 /15 and 2/20/15  Incubation takes approx. 5 weeks. You can view the nest on streaming video here.

Bald Eagle nests are, by most accounts,  the largest bird’s nests in the world.

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On Sunday morning, the Duke Farms female brought new nesting material into the nest. Always remodeling.

The adult eagles build their massive nests — which weigh hundreds and hundreds of pounds — solely with beak and claw.

Although a pair of eagles can build a nest in less than a month, the nest itself seems to be forever a work in progress, with modifications and materials added over the years.

The nest work continues after the eggs are laid, when eaglets are in the nest, and after nesting season.

New-Nest-11-30-12EDITThe host tree can be anything from a cottonwood to a sycamore, so long as sturdy enough to support a thousand-pound nest. And the nest must be big enough not only two adults but for nestlings that grow as large as their parents and need a lot of room.

By then, the raptors are roughly three feet long from head to tail, and their wingspans are six feet or more. They take up a lot of space.

The nests need to be very sturdy as well, because when the eaglets learn to fly, they jump up and down, flapping their wings.

The eagles build the nest about two-thirds of the way up the tree, where stout branches become the girders that support the structure.

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In this late January shot of the Duke Farms nest, the bowl is covered with snow.

First comes the outer framework, made of large sticks.

The eagles often get the sticks by landing forcefully on the limbs of dead trees and snapping the branches off, then carrying them in their talons back to the nest.

These “fresh from the tree” sticks tend to last longer to sticks taken from the ground.

The middle layer is called the bowl. This liner is made up of such pliable materials as marsh grass, field grasses, corn husks and  pine straw.

The top layer is the egg cup, made of  soft plant material with excellent  insulating qualities that help keep the eggs warm when the parents take a break.

Sometimes the eagle will bring in some evergreen twigs as well. “Some scientists believe this is done for a variety of reasons, including camouflage, insect repellent, or to signal to other eagles that the nest is ‘occupied.’ “ says Thom Almendinger, Duke Farms’ Director of Natural Resources.

Bald Eagles typically their nests  near water, which makes sense because so much of the their diet is fish.

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This Bald Eagle nest (middle of photo in background) is in a condominium community on Florida. Photo by Jerry Barrack.

They also tend to build their nests away from humans, although some birds are becoming  more tolerant of human activity.

Bald Eagles have nested for years in a condominium complex in Longboat Key in Florida, for example, fir several years, although the nest is reportedly not active this year.

Although some Bald Eagles have been known to build alternate nests, Thom says he has seen no signs of an alternate nest at Duke Farms.

Another informative post on Bald Eagle nests is here.

Got a question or suggestion? E-mail Jim at wrightjamesb@gmail.com

Jim Wright writes “The Bird Watcher” columnist for The Record and the Herald-News. He is the author of four coffee-table books about wild places, and the deputy marsh warden of the Celery Farm Natural Area in Allendale, N.J.

Tomorrow: A Brief Anecdotal History of Eagle Nests in America.

Next week:  The Eagle Cam

Last week: The Duke Farms Eagle Nest Itself.

Two weeks ago: A Brief History of Bald Eagle Eggs in New Jersey and All About Duke Farms’ Bald Eagle Eggs.

Three weeks ago: Bald Eagle basics.

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4 Responses to Anatomy of a Bald Eagle Nest

  1. Trudi Kron says:

    Great post thanks for all you do

  2. Pingback: An Anecdotal History of Bald Eagle Nests in America | Behind the Stone Walls

  3. Pingback: Our Story Thus Far | Behind the Stone Walls

  4. Pingback: All About the Duke Farms Eagle Nest | Behind the Stone Walls

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