As the Bald Eagle approaches week nine and beyond, most of the skills needed to take the first flight off of the nest have been learned. Feathers are still growing and play an important part in the first branching and first flight. During this time, the eaglet is well able to fly, but the landings can be awkward and hard. Sometimes the eaglet has a “fludge” instead of a fledge, leaving the nest before it is quite ready, and may end up in a lower tree, or even on the ground where the parent will care for it until it can return to the nest.
Weeks 9 thru 11 (57 to 77 days)
- The eaglet is preparing to branch, a precursor to fledging (flying away from the nest). Branching means both feet are off the nest bed onto a nearby branch or trunk.
- Some eaglets could be nearing fledge this early, but it can take up to 14 weeks.
- The eaglet will walk and play with other eaglets in the nest (if it has siblings), as well as continue to show aggression towards the parents when delivering food.
- When the eaglet finally takes its first fledge, the landings back at the nest are usually very clumsy and awkward.
- Its feeding schedule resembles that of an adult now — fewer feedings, but more food in each feeding. The crop (the storage area beneath the chin) can hold up to almost two pounds of food, and can last the eaglet for several days if needed.
- According to research biologists, males tend to fledge days sooner than females.
Weeks 12 thru 14 and onward (78 to 98 days and beyond)
- At this age, a fledge has usually occurred. Most will return to their natal nest and continue to make short flights for the next two to five weeks, and may sometimes be gone overnight.
- The eaglet will make lots of short flights while the feathers continue to grow. It is very common to hear and then see an eaglet following a parent delivering food into the nest.
- It will learn to soar and ride the thermals, often watching a parent do it first.
- Approximately six to 10 weeks after fledging, it will usually break family ties and leave the nest area and go through dispersal, moving in no fixed direction or distance. There are four different flyways in the United States, with the Atlantic flyway the one used by east coast eaglets/eagles.
- The eaglet is a full adult size, but its coloring is different with all brown feathers, dark eyes and a dark beak.
- As it goes through molts over the years, after about age three it will begin to get some of its white head and tail feathers, usually reaching full adult coloring at maturity, or age five. Juvenile flight feathers are longer than adults and get shorter with each additional molt.
- While it looks like an adult, its behavior is different. It must learn how to become independent and secure its own food sources.
- During the first few years, its diet will consist mainly of carrion or stolen food. They don’t fully learn how to hunt or fish until around age two or three.
- Approximately 50 percent of Bald Eagles survive the first year as they face the difficulties of getting enough food and surviving the dangers of lead, fishing tackle, predators and humans.