HILLSBOROUGH, NJ - Duke Farm’s most famous residents – a pair of American Bald Eagles – are watching over Duke Farms’ newest residents – two Eaglet chicks that were hatched within 48 hours of one another on Saturday and Monday.
Thousands of Internet viewers were able to watch as each egg was hatched, the first at 4:55 p.m. Saturday and the second at 8:41 a.m. Monday, courtesy of a real-time camera installed above the nest by Duke Farms Living Habitat.
The two Eagles and their chicks live in a sturdy nest built in the crotch of a poplar tree 100 feet above the ground, a short distance from the Raritan River.
The exact location of the nest is closely guarded and protected by the expansive grounds of the former Duke estate, which encompasses 2,700 acres along Route 206.
The adult Eagles first built the nest in 2005, and have returned each year since. Several dozen Eagles have been hatched over the years by the nesting pair, with the fledgling Eagles eventually leaving the nest each year to set off on their own.
Wildlife experts each year retrieve the young Fledgling from the nest to affix bands to their legs. Many of the birds born in Hillsborough have been tracked to nests throughout New England.
This year, the first egg was laid Feb. 18; the second on Feb. 21. Incubations average 35 days. The first egg hatched a few days late, but the second egg was right on schedule. The adult Eagles are taking turns warming the chicks Beneath their breast in the straw-covered nest.
The male and female Eagles dutifully watch over the eggs, taking turns to fly in and out of the nest several times a day; the Eagles will hunt and return to the nest where they will feed the Eagle chicks fish, rodents and other birds. The parents tear at their prey with their beaks, pulling off small bits of meat for the chicks to eat. The video of the nest clearly shows two headless trout waiting to be fed to the young chicks.
The chicks are voracious eaters, and will grow to full size in less than three months, quickly shedding the downy white feathers they are born with as their darker feathers emerge.
The entire process can be viewed on the Duke Farms Eagle Cam:http://dukefarms.org/eaglecam
The chicks will measure 4 to 5 inches at hatching and weigh only a few ounces, according to the US Fish & Wildlife Service. An eagle chick will eat as much as it can at a single feeding, storing food in its crop. The crop, an organ located near the base of the bird's neck, will enlarge as it fills, resembling a golf ball.
The male parent does most of the hunting and scavenging during the early weeks of the chick's life. The female parent does the majority of the feeding and brooding. The male will brood and feed the chick when the female is off the nest. She will leave to stretch, defecate, bathe, preen and hunt on her own.
The chicks will be nearly full grown at 9 weeks of age. They will add some weight as they develop their flight muscles after they leave the nest.
Duke Farms has created a comprehensive program for teachers to educate their classes about the Eagles. Further information is available on the eagle cam website.