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Countdown: Hillsborough Bald Eagle Chicks Ready to Hatch

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March 24: One of the adult Eagles settles in over the eggs. Credits: Courtesy Duke Farms
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The Eagles nest at Duke Farms in Hillsborough can be viewed on the Internet. Credits: Courtesy Duke Farms
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March 24: One of the eggs appears to have a crack  Credits: Courtesy Duke Farms
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HILLSBOROUGH, NJ - Any day now . . .

Duke Farm’s most famous residents – a pair of American Bald Eagles – is taking turns warming two eggs, due to hatch any day, as thousands of Internet viewers maintain a vigil courtesy of a camera installed above the nest by Duke Farms Living Habitat.

The two eggs are nestled in the top layer of straw and salt grass inside a sturdy nest the Eagles built in the crotch of a poplar tree 100 feet above the ground, a short distance from the Raritan River. Late Thursday, there appeared to be a small crack in one of the eggs. The eggs are slightly smaller than goose eggs.

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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, with the fledgling Eagles eventually leaving the nest each year to set off on their own. Wildlife experts each year retrieve the young Fledglings 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.

The male and female Eagles dutifully watch over the eggs, taking turns to fly in and out of the nest several times a day; once the eggs hatch, 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 chicks are born with soft, downy white feathers, which are soon replaced by darker feathers.

The entire process can be viewed on the Duke Farms Eagle Cam:http://dukefarms.org/eaglecam

Jim Wright maintains a blog – Behind the Stone Walls - updating readers on activity at the nest:

https://dukefarms.wordpress.com/tag/jim-wright/

Here are entries from Wednesday, March 23:

“First egg has incubated for 34 days. It’s due to hatch on or about Thursday, March 24 — but it could hatch sooner or after.  Nature keeps its own schedule. Second egg has incubated for 31 days. It’s due to hatch on or about Sunday, March 27. (Knock on wood).

“What You Need to Know About the Hatch: One of the most dramatic moments of an eagle nesting season is when a chick emerges from its shell.

Since incubation takes roughly 35 days or so and the first egg arrived on Feb. 18, the first chick could hatch as early as today (Wednesday) — although tomorrow (Thursday) or beyond is a bit more likely.”

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.

Other facts:

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 website: http://dukefarms.org/eaglecam

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