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What the Eagles Teach Us
Posted: 07/17/2012
Iowa’s most famous internet export--the Decorah Eagles--was dealt a blow this month with the death of one of the young raptors. That reminds hundreds of thousands of viewers that survival is tough in nature; making the birds and the Decorah Eagle-Cam, which tracked their early days, even more valuable.

Now, too, that tree-mounted camera is dark. Since the eagles are free flying now, there is little chance they’ll spend much time at the nest. It also gives the Raptor Resource Project opportunity to update equipment and plan for the future. 

It will be hard to beat 270-million internet hits in the last 17 months; with world-wide eyes watching the hatch and early development of the 2011 and 2012 eagles. That’s provided an education for those online observers. 

“They use it in the classroom and they have to come here (to the DNR Decorah trout hatchery). A lot of people come from across the country; enjoying northeast Iowa,” emphasizes project coordinator Bob Anderson.  “They’re out of the office; away from the screens. It really is doing that service.”

And those eagles are teaching us.

“One thing we have learned is that eagles can be nocturnal. We have seen them bringing in live food in the middle of the night, defending the nest, flying at night,” reports Anderson. “It was fascinating to us. It helps us learn things about a species; when we thought the book had already been written. To discover that has been really fun!”

That fun will continue, as project volunteers—and website visitors--follow another eagle wearing a solar-powered satellite transmitter.

“It was a perfect fit. The bird has accepted it. With luck, she will ‘wow’ us like the baby from last year,” anticipates Anderson. “She has covered thousands and thousands of miles. Who would guess that an Iowa eagle would be (soaring across Canada). If it wasn’t for this transmitter, we could not learn these things.”
Eagles traditionally re-use the same nest. That is why the ‘nest cam’ is such a good investment; knowing the birds will be back year after year. Anderson hopes for some treetop maintenance, though, before next nesting season. 

As part of their courtship, bald eagles bring in sticks to add to the nest. Over the years, the Decorah nest has grown. Anderson worries that strong winds could bring down the internet favorite.

“We are going to apply for a permit to allow us to remove, maybe 50 or 60 pounds of nest each year as we replace the cameras. Maybe we could stay ahead of that; prevent it from collapsing,” says Anderson.

If the nest would go down, the eagles would rebuild in the same area. With the camera in place, eagle watchers would prefer it stay where it is. If not, they would have to deal with it then. “That’s nature. That is bald eagle biology,” Anderson acknowledges.