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These Bald Eagles Could be the Web's Most Popular Family

Feb 19, 2015 11:16 PM EST
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One-eyed eagle rescued after being found swimming in the Atlantic

A pair of bald eagles in Decorah, Iowa surprised armchair bird watchers Wednesday night when a livecam feed captured the female eagle laying an egg. By Thursday, news of the egg had spread like wildfire, with the eagle camera's UStream page racking up 4,000 to 5,000 viewers at a time. Overall, the page has been visited nearly 309 million times.

This eagle pair isn't exactly unfamiliar with the limelight either. Late last January, they earned themselves a little bit of fame after successfully fending off great horned owls who attempted to make the eagles' nest their own. You can see several recordings in which a female owl visits the nest in the middle of the night, and winds up grappling with the eagles even as its mate swoops in from the sides.

And while birds of prey stealing nests has been known to happen, a battle between two massive predators such as eagles and great horned owls over a single home was something entirely different. That's at least according to Bob Anderson, director of the Raptor Resource Project (RRP) in Decorah.

"The footage is shocking," Anderson told The Verge back in January. "This is the first time it's ever been documented. Ever."

And while many regular watchers were confident that the eagles had retained their claim on the nest by February, it was officially confirmed by the RRP, who runs the web cam, on Wednesday night when the first egg was laid. (Scroll to read on...)

[Credit: elfenruler via RRP] We get our first peek at the egg as the mother repositions it around 11:19]

"We are proud to announce egg number one in Decorah, laid at 6:07pm CST," they wrote on social media. "The 'who gets the nest?' nail-biting appears to be over, and the winners are Mom and Dad Decorah!"

How do they know? Birds tend to have some control over when exactly they finally settle down to lay their eggs. Some researchers have speculated that this can even influence the behavior and potentially gender of the chick-to-be.

It stands to reason then that the Decorah mother eagle would only finally lay her precious egg when the coast was clear - when a pair of surly 2-foot-tall owls won't be returning.

According to the RRP, this is the 21st egg the pair has laid. The 20 other eggs all hatched healthy eaglets who made it into their juvenile years before leaving to find mates of their own. The nest is also a short flight away from a local fish hatchery, so the likelihood that this latest egg's eaglet will live a long and healthy life is pretty good.

And although the Decorah pair are something of local and internet celebrities, they are not the only bald eagles making babies this near-spring season.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission's own eagle cam in Codorus State Park recently spotted a pair lay not just one egg, but two. The first was fittingly discovered by stream watchers on Valentine's Day, and by Tuesday another had appeared. It remains unclear when exactly each egg was laid, but independent reports suggest they were done in the dark of night. (Scroll to read on...)

Eagle eggs take about 34 to 36 days to develop, so mark your calendars for March when a grand hatching may occur.

And it should be noted that this is all fantastic news for conservationists, who have been celebrating signs of recovery of these once endangered birds in the country that calls them its national symbol.

Still, with more egg laying and more eaglets hatching, the bald eagle is not out of the woods just yet. Experts have also expressed concern that because eagle habitats have still shrunk across the United States, more and more young pairs will have no place to go, leading to more infighting over territory.

It may be that the next time we see a fight between raptors over a nest, it will be between a pair of normally reserved and majestic bald eagles.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

- follow Brian on Twitter @BS_ButNoBS.

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