Nearly 151,600 people from around the world have tuned in for Season Two of a St. Paul reality show, and this week they viewed a long-awaited episode: two eaglets hatched in a tall tree aerie near downtown.
Internet users from all 50 states and 137 nations are viewing live footage from the second year of the eagle cam run by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. The cam is much busier and cheerier than last year, when three eggs laid in January froze and eventually crumbled. This year, the parent eagles, believed to be the same pair, have been constantly sitting on their eggs and chicks to keep them warm, said Erica Hoaglund, a DNR nongame wildlife specialist.
A third chick is expected to peck its way into the 6-foot-wide nest any day, she said.
The first fuzzy, gray eaglet emerged Tuesday, followed by the second on Wednesday. The parents are teaching their chirping, hungry youngsters how to eat catfish and pigeons they bring to the nest.
“Right now, they are very dependent and sit with their open mouths and hope somebody puts something in,” Hoaglund said. The eagles rip prey into eaglet-sized bites.
Eagles mate for life and return to the same nest every year. The pair on the cam remodeled their aerie this winter, adding lots of dry grasses and cattail fluff. Hoaglund said they share hunting and sitting duties, although the mother does most of the nest sitting, perhaps because she is one-third larger than the male and provides more body heat to warm the eggs and chicks. The cam showed one parent with an annoyed expression sitting patiently as snow fell Thursday afternoon.
The eagle cam was turned on Feb. 19 during the week the eggs were laid, Hoaglund said. It will remain on until this summer but has no lights to illuminate the nest at night.
As of Wednesday, 151,598 unique visitors, most from the United States, had made about 493,000 visits to the website: webcams.dnr.state.mn.us/eagle. The most frequent foreign cam visitors have been, in order, from Canada, Poland, the United Kingdom and Germany. The cam site has a link to a DNR Facebook page.
“Our Facebook page is exploding with questions and comments, and we get a fair number of calls and e-mails,” she said. “There’s a lot more interaction than last year when we had no chicks. … I am really impressed with how close people get to these birds. They are interested in every single little thing they do.”
“It is amazing, these fierce, majestic birds are so tender with their babies,” she said. “They check on them constantly. Our viewers say how much more fidgety the parents are since the eggs hatched.”
The bald eagle has made a strong comeback, especially in Minnesota, since the pesticide DDT was banned in 1972. The DNR has estimated there are more than 60 eagle nests in the Twin Cities area.
In 2012, a federal biannual eagle count along the Mississippi River from Dayton to Hastings found 36 active nests, an increase from prior years.