Among the many advantages of living in northern Michigan is the opportunity to observe our abundant wildlife in its natural environment.
For the past 10 years, we have enjoyed watching the comings and goings of a pair of bald eagles. Located at the top of a tall white pine, the nest is approximately five feet in diameter and two feet tall. It would never be confused with a robin's nest.
The bald eagle has been the national emblem of the United States since 1782. Its image is proudly depicted on The Great Seal of the United States, which can be seen on the back of every dollar bill.
If Benjamin Franklin had his way, the mighty bald eagle would not have been the national emblem. Ben's preference would have been the wild turkey. Though I admire Ben Franklin, I disagree with him on this one. Being called a turkey just doesn't sound as complimentary as being referred to as an eagle.
In mid-April we were tipped off by a neighbor who had seen an unusual amount of activity in and around the eagles' nest. It is common to see one of the birds sitting on the nest. I started watching the nest through a tripod-mounted spotting scope to see what was up in the neighborhood. Frequently both adult birds perched on the edge of the nest. Something was definitely different. After several days of nest watching, I saw movement not typical of the adults.
Eagles often bring their dinner to the nest for consumption. Their menu is varied but mainly consists of fish, small game such as rabbits, mice, chipmunks, waterfowl and roadkill of all types. Sometimes the bald eagle forgets its manners and takes food away from other smaller birds. As the story goes, this is the reason for Benjamin Franklin's disdain for the bird. He said that it was a bird of bad moral character.
One day I noticed one of the adults returning home with a good-sized fish. As it landed on the nest, I saw two gray fuzzballs pop their heads up with mouths wide open. Fascinated, I continued to watch as the adult disassembled the fish and feed it piece-by-piece to the hungry babies. Their appetite seemed to be insatiable. My guess is that the young eaglets were 1 to 2 weeks old by the time we confirmed their presence. At this point they each appeared to be about the size of a small chicken.
Being devoted parents, the eagles never left the "kids" home alone. One adult remained at the nest while the other shopped for take-out food. As the youngsters continued to grow, we enjoyed watching one adult come back to the nest with something in its clutches, and see the other leave to look for the next meal.
The adult male and female bald eagles have identical markings and are difficult to differentiate. The female, however, is usually larger than the male.
A few months have passed since our discovery, and the eaglets are almost fully grown. Instead of gray fuzz, they now sport coats of deep brown feathers, which they will display until approximately their fifth birthdays. They now sit on the edge of the nest, stretching and flapping their wings as though they are testing their flight equipment. We have yet to see them fly, but by the time you read this column, we hope they will be soaring like eagles should.
Ed Hungness and his wife became full-time residents of Fife Lake in 2005 after Ed's retirement. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail at P.O. Box 57, Fife Lake, MI 49633.