Tag Archives: Bald Eagle Courtship


Bald Eagle in Flight

According to the calendar it is spring, but in Alaska, we won’t see much evidence of spring for another six weeks. The days are getting longer, and when the sun shines, I can feel some warmth in its rays, but it easily could snow six inches tomorrow, and no one would be surprised if the temperature dropped into the low twenties or even the teens.

After an abnormally warm winter this year, I don’t mind waiting until late May for wildflowers and leaves, but before the first forget-me-not blooms, other signs of spring will be evident. Bald eagle pairs will soar, circle, dive, and even cartwheel during their mating rituals; schools of herring will arrive to lay and fertilize eggs; and baleen whales, seals, and sea lions will follow the tasty herring into the bays. I dream about sitting on our dock on a sunny day, watching whales and other sea mammals chase and feed on herring. Some years the show is spectacular, and other years, the herring run is insignificant, and the whales are absent. The red foxes are also active in the spring, and their haunting mating screams often awaken me. By early June, we should start seeing does and their newborn fawns. By then, the eagle pairs will be tending their nests as their eggs hatch and the chicks depend on them for a nearly constant supply of food.

I am busy this time of year getting the camp ready and the meals cooked for the spike camps for our spring hunting season. I also have a trip planned to visit my family in Kansas in mid-May, so I can watch two of my nephews graduate from high school. Meanwhile, my novel, Murder Over Kodiak, is being re-released by a small publishing company in Anchorage, so I’m preparing for another round of promotion, and that is hard work. The first thing I’m planning to do is to host a “virtual” book-release party on Facebook. I’ll write more about this next week. For now, I’m trying to learn everything I can about hosting a virtual party. It’s overwhelming, and I hope I’m not in over my head! I admit that I have an uncomfortable relationship with social media.DSC_0168

Between my day job, promoting my novel, keeping up with my blog and my mystery newsletter, working on my next novel and my other writing projects, and getting ready for a trip to visit my family, my spring will be busy. No matter how rushed I am, though, if the sun is shining, and the wind is calm, you can find me sitting on our dock, craning my neck to watch eagles circle and soar, and inhaling the sweet, salty scent of the low tide while scanning the beach for foxes eating clams and mussels. I’ll also be glancing hopefully at the ocean for roiling schools of herring, and listening for the powerful exhalations of large fin and humpback whales. Spring is my favorite time of year, and I am never too busy to enjoy it. I’ll let you know what I see.

Fin Whale near Kodiak Island

Tell me about your spring. I want to hear about the beautiful tulips, daffodils and other flowers already blooming in most places, or if you live in New Zealand or anywhere else in the southern hemisphere, how is your autumn?

If you haven’t already done so, sign up for my mystery newsletter. I am working on my next edition. Also, I apologize to anyone who has recently tried to order my novel Murder Over Kodiak. As I mentioned above, it is currently being re-released, and it will be available again soon with a bright, new, shiny cover. I’ll give you a sneak preview next week and tell you about my mixed emotions going from an indie author/publisher to working with a publishing house.


Bald Eagle Courtship, Mating, and Chicks

Bald Eagle in Flight

The piercing, high-pitched call causes me look up at the sky, where I see two bald eagles flying in circles several hundred feet above my head.  One eagle dives at the other.  They touch talons and then separate and soar higher. A few minutes later, one eagle again dives at the other, and this time their talons lock, causing the birds to spiral downward in a motion much like a cart-wheel.  I hold my breath as they plummet toward earth, but they finally pull away from each other and fly in opposite directions.

I assume I’ve just observed a courting display, and maybe I have, but biologists have a tough time differentiating between the aerial acrobatics of courting and those of aggression, and it is believed that the two behavioral displays may be closely related.  Eagles also display other much-less aggressive forms of courtship, such as perching beside each other on a branch and stroking and pecking at each other’s bills.  They also use their bills to stroke the heads, necks, and breasts of their mates.

Bald eagles sometimes mate for life, but if one member of the pair dies, the surviving member will often find a new mate within a year, and if a pair does not produce offspring after several seasons, they may change mates.



Copulation usually takes place near the nest site, and females lay between one and three eggs in mid-May on Kodiak.  The male and female take turns incubating the eggs, and each mate hunts for its own food.  The incubation period lasts 34 to 36 days, and it takes 12 to 48 hours for a chick to fully emerge from the egg.

During hatching, a chick must undergo several physiological adaptations.  Before it hatches, the chick absorbs oxygen through the shell by way of the mat of membranes under the shell.  During the hatching process, the chick must cut the blood supply to these membrane and trap the blood within its body.  At the same time, it must also inflate its lungs and begin breathing air once it has cracked the shell.  The chick must also absorb the yolk sack into its body and seal off the umbilicus.

Eagle in Nest

A newborn chick is helpless and dependent on its parents.  It cannot regulate its body temperature, so the parents must keep it warm.  Chicks grow rapidly as long as the parents can supply adequate food, and as the chicks develop and grow, the parents spend less time at the nest and more time hunting for food.

By the age of two weeks, most young eagles weigh one to two pounds (500 to 900 grams).  Between 18 to 24 days, chicks gain four ounces (100 to 130 grams) per day, the fastest weight gain of any stage of their development.  They begin feeding themselves by the sixth or seventh week and can stand and walk around the nest when they are eight weeks old.  At sixty days, eaglets are well-feathered and weigh 90% of their adult weight.

Chicks remain in the nest for ten to twelve weeks, and we often see fledglings making their first flights in late August.  Most nests where we live are located near the tops of tall cottonwood trees, and I wonder what it must be like for a young eagle to take that first step out of the nest.  Their first flights are often very clumsy and quite humorous to watch as they learn how to use their huge wings to fly and master landing on a branch.  Juveniles have longer wings and tails than adults, which makes it easier for them to learn how to fly, but it takes a while before they hone their skills, and they make several crash landings before they figure it out.  They often continue to receive food from their parents while they learn to fly and hunt.