Friday, April 01, 2016

Eaglet Growth and Development: Week One

Newly hatched D25, March 31st 2016
D24 is three days old today, sibling D25 is not quite a day old as I write, and D26 is still inside the egg. What can we expect in the first week of watching?

Weight Gain!
Like humans and other animals, growing nestlings have developmental milestones. The eaglets spend roughly the first week of their life gaining weight. They aren't able to thermoregulate yet, so depending on the weather and temperature, they may spend a lot of time under Mom and Dad. We'll see them eat, sleep, scuffle, and grow stronger as they interact with one another.  They will go from roughly 3.2 ounces - about the weight of 18 nickels - to roughly 16 ounces or one pound, increasing their weight five times over in just seven days.

Many structural features, including foot pads, tarsi, and hallux claws, won't start rapid growth until 10-15 days after hatch. But the hatchlings' mid-toes and culmen - the dorsal ridge of the upper mandible - are already growing longer! Food is the root of all else besides, so it isn't surprising that the culmen achieves maximum growth in the first ten days. I suspect that the mid-toe aids balance, a crucial element of sitting up and exploring the nest. While our eaglets won't truly stand on their feet until they are roughly four weeks old, they will begin to shuffle around the nest on their tarsi long before that.

Enjoy the downy bobbleheads this week! By next week, they will already be growing their longer 'wooly' second or thermal down and alternately worrying and thrilling us with their interactions and sojourns around N2B.

The general stages of eagle development are:

Stage 1 - Structural growth. In their first thirty-five to forty days of life, eagles grow very rapidly, gaining weight and building bones, muscles, tissue, and features like tarsi, footpads, toes, and claws. This phase of development slows down about halfway through an eaglet's time in the nest, even though individual features might continue some level of growth.

Stage 2 - Feather and flight-related growth. Eagles grow four sets of feathers - natal down inside the egg, thermal down, juvenile feathers, and adult feathers. While thermal down starts growing at about ten days and juvenile flight feathers at about 27 days, feather growth doesn't overtake structural growth until thirty-five to forty days after hatch. Flight muscles also begin growing as eaglets wingercize, flap, hover, and eventually branch and fledge.

Stage 3 - Neurological Coordination. Eagle watchers know how ungainly eaglets can seem! As they grow, they become more adept at controlling beaks, legs, wings, and feet. They learn to stand on their own feet, tear food, self-feed, and flap their wings, going from cute but clumsy clown clompers to graceful young eaglets poised at the edge of fledge.

I'm not sure how familiar many of you are with the cortical homunculus, an image-based tool that maps tactility. We discussed it very briefly in this blog and I'll include links below. While useful and extremely cool, most cortical homunculii are static - that is, they reflect just one phase (usually adult) of an organism's life. But an eaglet's cortical homunculus will differ from an adult's as body parts and associated skills are gained and neural pathways developed. Our eaglets' brains and bodies are rapidly growing and changing as they gain the skills they need for life outside the egg!

Things that helped me write this blog, with a few considerations:

2 comments: said...

Thank you thank you thank you!! So very informative. You guys and gals are the best.
Love the eagles and babies. This is my 3rd year for watching.
Again, thank you for your dedication.

Debbie Miller said...

I've been following y'all for, I'm thinking this is my 3rd year. Last year was heartbreaking in many ways. That being said, I appreciate all that you and other organizations do to protect the Eagles. I've loved them since I was a young girl and I'm old now. Now to the reason for this comment. I read about the reasons for eggs not hatching. So I went back through the videos. In the videos after the 1st egg was laid there was a period of over an hour that both parents were gone. So my thoughts are that the eggs couldn't survive the cold. If that is the case, then it's the first egg and not the last egg that was laid. Right? I would like to know if it's possible. Thanks again for all that you do.