American Eagle Foundation
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2008 Recap:

"Slope", one of the bald eaglets (named in honor of a fallen Marine) that the American Eagle Foundation cared for and released on Douglas Lake last summer was taken from the nest of non-releasable parent eagles "Liberty" and "Justice" at our Dollywood-based raptor facility on June 24, 2008. It was then transferred to our eagle release (hacking) tower on Douglas Lake near Dandridge, TN.

The eaglet was released on August 25. It dispersed from the general area of the release tower on August 27, 2008, when it was approximately 13 weeks old and weighed 10.0 pounds ( a full size eagle).

Determined to be a female by the AEF, it had a 2-inch orange, patagial tag ("N8") placed on its left wing to aid in future sighting reports. There have been no reported sightings of the bird since it left the hacking tower location — which is not unusual.

The patagial tags placed on all the eaglets released by our staff have both a letter and number on them. For instance, all the 2008 tags ended with the number "8" (denoting the year released). A radio transmitter antenna is also placed on the middle tail feather of each bird.

"Slope" was named in honor of fallen U.S. Marine Sgt. Michael Ferschke Jr. by the Ferschke Family.

All eagles released during 2008 from the Douglas Lake hack site are listed below:


Pat. Tag Name Eagle Origin Arrival Date Release Date Release Wt. Dispersal Date Comments
K8 Liberty Sanibel Island Rehab 1/20/08 4/10/08 7 2.5 4/16/08  
D8 Huizinga 1 AEF Bonispae & Franklin 6/4/08 7/24/08 11 7/31/08  
S8 Virginia AEF Bonispae & Franklin 6/4/08 7/24/08 8 8/3/08  
T8 Ginther AEF Bonispae & Franklin 6/4/08 7/24/08 -- 8/23/08 11.8 8/29/08 Seen OK on 9/6/08 in ENC Indiana
L8 Purity S.F. Zoo 6/13/08 7/24/08 7.5 7/25/08  
J8 Betsy Ross S.F. Zoo 6/13/08 7/24/08 7. 8 8/1/08 Seen OK abt 9/10/08 in Canada
X8 Tennessee S.F. Zoo 6/13/08 7/24/08 7.14 7/31/08  
U8 Hope S.F. Zoo 6/13/08 7/24/08 8.5 8/4/08  
H8   AEF B29 & B14 6/24/08 8/25/08 8.5 8/27/08  
N8 Slope AEF Liberty & Justice 6/24/08 8/25/08 10 8/27/08  


"Slope's" hack tower companion weighed 8.5 pounds at release, which is upper mid-range between average female and male weight. Eagles are already at full adult size when they can first fly. Females are usually larger than males. Eagles with parents from northern areas typically also weigh more than those from southern regions. An Alaskan female can weigh up to 15 pounds and have up to an 8 foot wing span. A Southern male can weigh as little as 6 pounds with a wing span of about 6 feet. We know for sure from both their size and records that both "Liberty" and "Justice" are Alaskan and/or Northern born eagles. The parents of the other bald eaglet who shared the hack tower with "Slope" came to the AEF from the San Francisco Zoo and may have originated from Northern California wild nests.
Left to right: Eaglets are readied to be hoisted up to the tower; on the way up; release of eaglets.

Information about the hack tower and eaglet release:
AEF's hack tower has a 1-way glass on the rear of the hack cages, whereby up to 12 eaglets can be observed in four 8x8x8-foot hack cages. Vertical bars, 4-inches apart, separate each side-by-side cage, mounted about 25 feet above ground and overlooking Douglas Lake. There are also small openings in the solid rear and side walls, whereby pictures may be taken of the eaglets inside the cages.

Hack tower release dates are based primarily on when the eaglets are first capable of flight. That is generally at about 12 weeks of age, which would be July 31, 2008 for the web cam eaglet. They may be stimulated to exercise their wings more when facing strong steady winds during their 8 - 12 week old period. In areas of strong steady winds, eaglets are typically strong enough for their first flights at about 10 weeks of age. They are judged ready to fly from the cage when they can fly in place, a few feet above their caged nest, for several seconds. If there is not much wind, they may not exercise their wings enough to be strong enough to fly until they are about 13 weeks age. Another important factor in their release is the attempt to release as many young eagles as feasible at the same time. AEF plans to release up to seven young bald eagles from its hack site on July 22, 2008, but the eagle cam eaglet may, or may not be, ready for release at that date, depending on its flight capability at slightly less than 11 weeks of age.

A blind is usually set up to the front right of the hack tower, allowing some pictures to be taken from that angle as the young eagles leave their cages. Some eagles immediately bolt out when the vertically barred front cages are remotely raised by rope and pulley. However, they typically hop outside the hack cages onto perch poles and, after a few minutes to an hour or more, after they get enough courage to do so, they fly to a nearby tree. Their first landings can be somewhat awkward because they have had no prior experience at landing while flying horizontally.

Immature eagles are vulnerable to threats during their first year of life, primarily because they are naive to a variety of dangers in the wild. Dangers are many and include: becoming entangled in thick vegetation (mostly when very young), being hit by vehicles while feeding on freshly dead road kills, colliding with powerlines, never learning to hunt for themselves, electrocution. A radio transmitter is placed on the tail feathers of each eaglet so that they can be found if they get in trouble before dispersing from the area, which is typically two to four weeks after release. Only about 50 percent survive their first year, whether hacked or from wild nests, after which about 90 percent survive each year. That leaves only about 36 percent surviving to five years of age, when many will find a mate and produce their first young. Bald eagles have been known to live as much as 39 years in the wild and over 50 years in captivity, where there is good veterinary care. If an eagle is capable of surviving in the wild, it must be released into the wild.

June 23, 2008 --

Last day in the nursery!Our eaglet will be removed from the nest tomorrow, June 24, and transferred to a nearby artificial nest in a hack tower overlooking East Tennessee’s Douglas Lake. It will become oriented to typical bald eagle habitat for several weeks before it's released.


We hope you have enjoyed watching nesting activities as this eaglet has gone from "just-born" to now!

June 18, 2008 -

At 6 weeks of age, there's a big change in the size and appearance of the young eaglet. Gone are the downy white feathers - the eaglet is more closely resembling its parents. Although the parents still feed their baby, the eaglet is also beginning to feed itself.

June 6 , 2008 --

At 4 weeks of age, there's more activity from the eaglet. He (she?) is very alert to what's going on in the nest and is getting stronger every day — hopping, (sometimes falling over!) walking, exercising wings.

May 30, 2008 --

Our 3-week-old baby has grown a lot! If you've been watching, you've seen this little eaglet hopping, wiggling (sometimes his crop is so full from a recent dinner that he can't quite get up), and stretching! You'll also notice a definite change in color from fluffy white to a darkening gray. All is well, and Liberty and Justice keep doing a great job.

May 21, 2008 --

Our 2-week-old baby is doing well. Experienced parents Liberty and Justice take excellent care of their offspring.

May 13, 2008 --

May 13, 2008The second egg was removed from the nest today, "candled", and determined to be infertile. The eaglet, which hatched by early morning of May 8, 2008, appears very healthy. See the note April 2, 2008 (below) concerning future plans leading to his/her release into the wild.

May 11, 2008 -- A Mother's Day Moment --

May 11, 2008Around noon (CST) on Sunday (Mother's Day), both parents feed their baby --- (other egg remains unhatched)

May 8, 2008 -- We have a baby eaglet in the nest!

Photo from eagle camA day old baby eaglet stretches out tiny wings. (photo taken from eagle cam 5/9/08)

April 2, 2008

2008 Eagle Nest Cam & Proposed Bald Eagle Releases

The live eagle nest cam began operation at the American Eagle Foundation (AEF) of Pigeon Forge, TN on April 2, 2008, a few days after two eggs were laid. The non-releasable adult bald eagles, Liberty and Justice, take turns at sitting on the eggs, or they may move about just enough for you to see under them. You can then confirm the number of eggs, and when they begin to hatch.

Bald Eagles may have one to three eggs. Incubation requires about 35 days, provided one or both eggs are fertile. The eaglet(s) will remain in this nest until the eaglet(s) are approximately 5 weeks of age. The eaglet(s) will then be removed from the nest and transferred to a nearby artificial nest in a hack tower overlooking East Tennessee’s Douglas Lake. The young bird(s) become oriented to typical bald eagle habitat for several weeks before they’re released.

They may be joined by approximately 6 to 8 other captive-bred eaglets placed in four 8x8x8-foot hack cages, with possibly up to three eaglets in each cage. While in the cages, they will not be able to see humans as the source of their food to assure that they will later hunt for themselves, primarily for fish. They will be released into the wild when they are between 12 or 13 weeks of age after reaching full size, and will be able to fly for the first time.

Prior Eaglets Produced & Raised By Liberty and Justice
Liberty and Justice have become live cam stars over the years. From 1993 through 2004, they successfully reared 13 of their own young for release into the wild. During 2005, when their three eggs were infertile, they successfully reared an eaglet from the Columbus (Ohio) Zoo.

In 2006, apparent weather damage caused the collapse of the nest of Liberty and Justice, destroying three eggs that year.

In 2007, an infertile egg in the nest of Liberty and Justice was replaced by two eaglets from another of AEF’s captive breeding pairs, Bonispae and Franklin. Two broken egg shells were placed in the nest to make the “miraculous hatch" appear to be more convincing to Liberty and Justice, and their two adopted eaglets were reared successfully for release into the wild.

AEF’s Prior Bald Eagle Releases
From 1992 through 2007, the AEF has released a total of 87 mostly captive-bred bald eagles from that hack site. Bald eagles tend to return to the general region where they first learn to fly to nest after they reach sexual maturity at 4 to 5 years age. However, in case their future choices of life-time mates had learned to fly in some distant area(s), they may need to compromise on their future nesting sites.

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