Few things, other than the flag itself, are as strongly symbolic of the United States of America as the bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). Once widespread throughout North America, the population of the bald eagle has been vastly reduced, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as it lost available habitat to deforestation, suffered from the accumulation of pesticides like DDT, and lost an important winter food source as the American bison herds were decimated as the United States expanded westward. Recently, however, bald eagle numbers have been on the rebound.
One particular pair of eagles in Decorah, Iowa, has been doing their part to help the upward trend in the bald eagle population. The Raptor Resource Project (RRP) has installed a live streaming camera, known as the Eagle Cam, that lets web users all around the world peek into an active bald eagle nest that has produced, says the RRP, 11 baby eagles through 2011.
This year, the pair has laid three more eggs in the nest. The eggs were laid, one each day, on Feb. 17, 20, and 24. Since bald eagle eggs take 34 to 36 days to hatch, according to the Cornell Ornithology Lab, that means those tuning in right now have a very good chance to watch brand new bald eagles break their way out of the eggs. In fact, the first egg has already hatched and the fluffy, grey eagle chick that emerged can be seen whenever the mother eagle stands up to stretch her legs and check on her clutch.
The Eagle Cam, says the RRP, is equipped with infrared light that is invisible to the eagle at night, but allows a clear view for human observers during the hours of darkness. The Eagle Cam is also equipped with a microphone that transmits the chirps of the baby eagles and the parental clucking of the mother eagle in addition to the call of other birds in the immediate vicinity. On the night of March 27, for example, the clear and distinctive call of a barred owl could be heard relatively close by.
Bald eagle chicks start out as tiny fledglings covered in a soft, grey down. As their feathers come in, they will darken up and become dark brown to nearly black. The white head and tail that are characteristic of the bald eagle do not develop until the eagle's fifth year, so juvenile bald eagles are often mistaken for golden eagles or other large raptors.