Tuesday, May 24, 2011


The Decorah Eaglets are now junior sized. I must apologize for the blurred picture, but the camera lens has been pooped on several times and then washed a bit by the rains, leaving less-that satisfactory clarity -- but since the nest is 80 feet off the ground in a very tall tree, what you see is what you get. There are NO window (lens) washers up there.

It has been a real treat to see these three little newly-hatched birds go through the akward growing stages to get to this point. But I have to admit that I no longer watch them as much. It was fun to watch them fight for a place in the food line -- big, big mouths, much flapping of wings and toppling over on each other. Then changing from fuzzy little things to having pinfeathers all over.

Now when you look through the camera, all you see are junior birds learning to handle their feathers and their lice. Watching them is like sitting next to a person who is endlessly jiggling their leg or their foot. It doesn't bother them, but it drives me crazy... both the person and the birds.

I have learned a lot about birds and lice, though.

As you undoubtedly know, birds preen -- they run their beaks through their feathers or scratch their heads with a toe. These junior eaglets are learning to preen, the object being mainly threefold:

1. New feathers (pinfeathers) are wrapped in a sheath, and the bird must break open the sheath for the feathers to open.

2. Feathers have little barbs on the shaft that join with other feather-shaft barbs. Sometimes the barbs unhook and the bird preens the feathers to get them hooked back into position so the shafts don't split.

3. In the process of preening, the bird also removes small mites and other parasites. It also helps distibute an oil called uropygial, which helps to waterproof and condition their feathers.

Now I did read somewhere that the lice that birds carry are color-coded (my word, not the author's) to the bird. Black birds have black lice, white birds have white lice and so forth. The article didn't say what color lice a red-headed blackbird would have -- or whether there was even a need for red lice, not being a very broadly used color in birds.

When we were kids we'd often find baby birds on the ground - some living and some dead - and we'd pick them up in our hands and take them to show mother. She always shrieked and told us to go put them back, that they had lice. I'm glad I didn't know then about colored lice; my sis and I would probably have had a lice-finding adventure before we took them to mother, hoping to find a red one.

Getting back to the eaglets, watching all three of them scratch and preen for 5 minutes is not my idea of what I want to do with my time, so now each day I go to the Decorah Eagle website, take a head count (ascertaining quickly beforehand that there isn't anything more revolting that a partially eaten fish lying in the nest) and then say goodbye. That's kind of the same as moving to a different seat when I find myself next to a leg-jiggling man. (It's always a man, for some reason).

The birds are almost as big as their parents now, and what time they aren't preening is divided between exercising their wings and sleeping like babies. It's been a nice two months watching their development. I like birds. I'll probably do this all over again next year, but maybe with owls.


Olga said...

I learned something new today! I did not know about color coded lice. I like your dedication to research.

marciamayo said...

We sometimes have lice in my second grade class, but they aren't color coded.