The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

February 24, 2013

Jo Ellis: Web makes nest a room with a view

Eagle family’s reality show may be branching out

By Jo Ellis
Globe Columnist

CARTHAGE, Mo. — Ever since there were reports of eagles nesting in the vicinity of Kellogg Lake Park, I have become interested in learning more about them. We live only a mile from the lake, and occasionally I’ve been fortunate to see one fly down the valley behind our house or circle high above while searching for prey.

Last year, I stumbled across Ustream, a website that gave me a front-row seat at an eagle nest in Decorah, Iowa. The nest is located at a farm near a fish hatchery, and in a tree that overhangs a small stream. From late winter to early spring, a video cam was trained continuously on the nest while the parent pair “redecorated” for their upcoming brood. It followed them through the laying and piping of their eggs, and the feeding and training of their three baby eaglets.

The Decorah Eagles website identified the eaglets as D12, D13 and D14. I was privileged to see the first and third eaglets hatch. Somehow I missed D13’s entrance into the world, but thousands of other viewers were in attendance. The website had an incredible number of followers and an unending social stream of chat from viewers all over the world who were watching and enchanted by every development.

Teachers used the website as a teaching tool and often began their morning classes with a visit to the eaglets. The mom and dad were experienced parents. Dad once brought three sucker fish to the nest within one hour. They were also unique in that for several years they successfully hatched three eggs instead of the more common two-egg family.

D14, like his mother, had a transmitter attached to his body as part of a study documenting the lives of bald eagles, where they travel and winter over, and their socialization.

Unfortunately, the story doesn’t have a good ending. Sometime after leaving the nest in the summer, D14 was found electrocuted in November after trying to land on a power pole near Rockford, Iowa. D12 had suffered the same fate earlier in the year. These tragedies happen with old-style poles that have not been retrofitted with bird safety devices. Such electrocutions not only end the bird’s life, but they can cause fires and power disruptions.

I have anticipated watching D1 and her mate reproducing again this spring, but that is unlikely. Multiple nest building is commonplace with eagles, and in October, the pair began a new nest some 300 yards away from the old nest. It was uncertain which nest they would occupy this season, but as of about two weeks ago, it appeared they preferred the new nest.

Installing cameras at the new site would be risky and could scare the eagles away at a critical time. The administrators of the website said the only safe time to change or install cameras is in the fall, before the eagles start to work on their nest. The current eagle cam view is either on the old nest or on the “Y” branch where the eagles enjoy perching at times. The zoom cannot reach the new nest.

The administrators have promised to provide updates and photographs from the ground to keep all “beak geeks” or “bird nerds” advised of the latest developments for the 2013 season. I guess I am one of those.

Even though close-ups of the Decorah eagles may be few and far between this season, it’s heartening to see their peaceful surroundings. Three horses and a colt inhabit the barnyard below. A farmhouse set against a wooded hill and flanked by a rural road (sometimes you can hear the school buses drive by) bring nostalgic memories of a simpler life.

You can visit the Decorah eagles Facebook page or access the website at www.ustreamtv/decoraheagles. All videos with eagle activity will be highlighted with notifications in blue.

Address correspondence to Jo Ellis, c/o The Joplin Globe, Box 7, Joplin, MO 64802 or email