Wednesday marked the 35-day mark for the first egg’s incubation period, so experts at the American Eagle Foundation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have been closely tracking and watching the pair’s movements using a live streaming system for the past few weeks as hatch time nears.
The birds’ parents — nicknamed “Mr. President” and “The First Lady” — take turns keeping the eggs warm in the hatching process.
The first egg was laid around 3 p.m. Feb. 10. And around 7 p.m. Wednesday, it started to crack.
“We were right on the money,” said Julia Cecere, a spokeswoman for the American Eagle Foundation in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., in terms of the first egg hitting its 35-day incubation period.
“We weren’t sure at first,” said Cecere, who noted that she’s lacking on sleep but running on excitement as she and her father — Al — who founded the American Eagle Foundation — await the eaglets’ arrival.
“The picture was not clear,” she said. “We were wondering is it a pip or not?” She said the first crack was at the top of the egg. But by 10 p.m., it became more clear as one of the eagles got off the egg and they could see a clearer crack from the live camera.
In a Facebook post, the eagle foundation said late Wednesday night that “the pipping process has begun on the DC Eagle Cam!”
A pip is considered to be a crack in the egg’s shell and shows up as the eaglet begins to emerge. Experts said it could take between 12 and 48 hours for an eaglet to completely emerge from the shell.
A second egg is expected to hatch as soon as this weekend, eagle experts said.
“We expect a lot of action today,” said Julia Cecere. Already, a photo taken early Thursday morning showed cracks “all the way down the side of the egg.”
The pipping happens when an eaglet “uses the tip of its beak to break through the internal membrane and outer shell of its egg,” officials with the American Eagle Foundation said. Once the pipping starts, the eaglet is breathing air from the outside.
Around mid-afternoon, officials with the American Eagle Foundation gave an update, saying the hole “seems to be a bit bigger.”
By 1:58 p.m., an up close shot of the first egg showed several cracks in it and what appeared to be a beak near the surface.
“It is making its way out of the egg slowly,” said Julia Cecere.
“You’ll see eyes, then its face and then other things,” she said. “We’re excited to see it appears to be healthy so far.”
The eagles have been nesting at the arboretum since October 2014. The bald eagles setting up their nest at the arboretum was a big deal because it was the first nest spotted there since 1947. Last summer, the pair raised one eaglet.
Although officials initially said more than one eaglet hatched in the spring, they later said that there was only one confirmed eaglet, based on photographs and observations by arboretum staff and D.C. eagle biologists.
Anyone eager to guess the hatch dates and times of the eggs can do so using the hashtag #dceaglecam on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
In a statement, Al Cecere — who is also president of the American Eagle Foundation — said Thursday, “This is a very special time in the nest.”
Cecere, who was in the music-production business, created the foundation in 1985 and has received support from such stars as country music singer Dolly Parton.
“To witness the up-close process of an eaglet breaking through its shell and being fed by its parents for the first time is wonderfully heartwarming,” Cecere said in a statement.
For now, the first one will tentatively be called “DC2.” And the sibling will be called “DC3.”
The public will have a chance to come up with official names for the eaglets, the foundation said.
Much of the eagles’ movement on the nest involves the birds rotating the eggs. Eagle experts said the parents roll the eggs several times during the incubation and then roll them more when the eggs start to hatch. It is a process that is done to distribute heat.
On Facebook, there were plenty of people making comments as the hatching process was underway.
Janet Barlow wrote, “Wonderful! It won’t be long, now…” And Karen Schoel said “Can’t wait!” Theresa Williams wrote “exciting times.”
Putting in the cameras and other equipment to watch the pair of bald eagles was a challenge. Workers had to run half a mile of fiber-optic cable to the control box about 200 feet from the tree. The system for the camera gets power from a large, solar array that was designed, built and staffed by the Alfred State College’s School of Applied Technologies in Wellsville, N.Y.
Wildlife specialists were also involved to reduce disturbance to the eagles. In the spring, experts plan to take blood samples from eaglets at nest sites in the arboretum and in the D.C. area. Each eaglet is expected to get a leg band for identification.
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.