The eagerly awaited eaglets appear to have hatched at the U.S. National Arboretum in Northeast Washington.
Officials tracking a pair of adult bald eagles for the past few months said last week that they believed the birds had created a nest in a tall tulip poplar on the 400-acre property off New York Avenue NE. And they believed it contained eggs.
In the local wildlife world, eaglets at the arboretum are a big deal because it is the first time since 1947 that a bald eagle nest has been spotted there.
On Monday, arboretum officials said that although there is no live camera that allows them to see how many eaglets have hatched in the nest, they are all but certain there are hatchlings.
“They have to have hatched by now,” said Dan Rauch, a fish-and-wildlife biologist with the District’s Department of the Environment. “The behavior suggests there are eaglets in there and they’re looking after them.”
Rauch has been tracking the pair of eagles since last fall and believes the eggs were laid around late January. Based on that information, plus the fact that eagles have a 35-day incubation period, he estimates it’s about time for them to hatch.
On Friday, arboretum officials announced that the pair were nesting in a 90-foot-tall tulip poplar and warned that visitors wouldn’t be allowed to get too close to the area on the south side of Mount Hamilton. They also said they expected eaglets sometime this week.
The nest is estimated to stretch five feet wide and three feet deep. Typically, eagles have one to three eggs at a time.
On Monday, a few wildlife experts observed the pair of adult eagles from a distance. The female was spotted in the nest and appeared to be “maneuvering around.”
“She was very careful where she placed her feet,” Rauch said. “She was very ginger, very deliberate where she was putting her talons.”
Unlike ducklings, which are “all fluffed up” and ready to hop out of the nest and swim within hours of birth, eaglets take longer to develop, Rauch said. They need nearly constant care by an adult bird in the early weeks because they can’t control their body temperature and are unable to feed themselves.
On Monday, as officials watched, the female eagle flew from the nest and headed to a nearby tree to groom herself while the male eagle came in and appeared to be caring for the hatchlings. “She took a break, and the male took over,” Rauch said.
The female was “stretching her wings, fixing her feathers,” Rauch said. “She took a bathroom break and let him take a turn. They’re new parents. It is definitely co-parenting.”
Rauch said the birds are already proving just how resilient they are, having survived bitterly cold temperatures, snow and ice this winter.
“They’re clearly really good parents, and they’ve stuck it out on that nest,” he said. “There hasn’t been a time that one of them hasn’t been there on it.”
In another three to four weeks, it is likely the eaglets will poke their heads up out of the nest. Officials hope to be able to install a live camera next year after the eaglets leave the nest.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service experts are expected to fly over the area next week and use a telephoto lens to get a better look at the eagles and their nest. The flyover will follow federal laws and other guidelines in place that protect eagles.
Bald eagles have been taken off the endangered-species list, but there are strict federal rules protecting them, including that they remain undisturbed while mating and nesting. Laws also require buffer zones to be created around their nesting areas.
Experts have been watching the arboretum eagles for months. The pair have been seen catching catfish in the Anacostia River and bringing them back to the nest.
The tree where the eagles built their nest is also close to the arboretum’s popular azalea collection, which typically blooms in late April and early May. Signs on the roads and trails where the eagles have made their home will keep visitors away, officials said.
Knowing the eaglets have arrived is a thrill for wildlife experts.
“It’s amazing,” Rauch said. “For the arboretum, they’re head over heels to have a pair of nesting eagles.” He said there are hopes that the nest will become “multigenerational,” with eagles returning to use it.
What probably attracted the pair of eagles to the arboretum, experts said, is that the property is close to the water and has large trees that can support an eagle’s nest.
For those hoping to catch a glimpse of the birds at the arboretum, officials recommend going to the parking lot off M Street NE. From there, visitors might catch sight of the eagles flying to and from the nest.