I’ve been watching the eagle nest. Who hasn’t? I’ve been watching as the parents took turns turning three eggs, as the first chick took its first bite, as the second chick wobbled and flopped for a day and finally took its first bite, as the mother gutted a bunny, shredded a fish, plucked a bird, and now as the crack widens in the third egg. Cars are stopping on the road below the nest; every now and then some idiot honks to get the birds’ attention.
But I had to turn it off for awhile this afternoon when it looked like instinct and tragedy had intersected. Ever since the first egg hatched, I’ve known something could go horribly wrong. I thought perhaps the third chick would be too weak to compete with the others, or that a severe storm would shake out a chick or damage the nest, or that a parent could get killed somehow and just never return. Or that a human might do something stupid. It never occurred to me that the father would toss its first-born out of the nest.
I saw it happen. So did about 122,000 other people, who must have emitted the same gasp I did. The father flicked some detritus out of the nest and accidentally caught the chick, flipping it out as well. It could so easily have gone all the way out of the nest, but it landed in the outer rim where prey is kept. I thought certainly the adult would scoop it back in, but after feeding it once, he settled back on the nest and left the chick out in the wind. For a long time he nurtured the nest and ignored the chick on the rim. I imagine he was thinking “Oh, no, what have I done? It was an accident, I swear!”
After awhile the mother returned, evaluated the situation, took over the nest, and looked quizzically once at the ejected chick, then continued to set, turning around now and then. I thought well that’s instinct for you, if it’s not in the pocket they don’t even recognize it. I watched as long as I could. My stomach couldn’t take the tension. The little chick sat there silently looking at its mother, longing to be back in the fold, unable to move itself. It could roll the wrong way and tumble eighty feet to the ground, it could die of hypothermia. I had to turn it off.
I should have had more faith in Nature. Suzi called five minutes later, and Connie right after that, to tell me the mother had rearranged the nest and scooped the chick back beneath her. My nerves slowly settled down, and I went back online to resume my obsession. Viewer numbers had jumped up six thousand since I tuned out.
As I began to write this saga, the mother stepped to the rim and began to feed the chicks again. And now that little bastard is pecking and shaking its younger sibling and stealing all the food. The third egg continues to expand. Hatching is imminent. The drama continues, and I, red, tooth or claw, am hooked again.
Ten minutes after I post, the male returns to the nest with a blackbird, sits and pants for a few minutes, flies off, and returns within minutes with a fish. He leaves again, and in a few more minutes is back with another fish. Making amends? He leaves again, and the mother begins to feed the chicks from the new fish, the new bird. The second chick is still very wobbly, and misses four out of five bites. And that little bastard that got rescued pecks his sibling, grabs her with his beak and puts her down, and takes more morsels from mama.
When the errant parent finally takes the nest again and the other eagle leaves, he sits very still. After an hour, when the chicks become restless, he lifts himself just a little, and they crawl to the front and stick their heads out from beneath his breast. He seems reluctant to get off them, looking up and around as if seeking his mate to handle this. Another hour passes and she has not returned. He moves to the rim gingerly, and feeds the chicks. He honestly seems to be moving more cautiously than before. Lesson learned, I hope.
And mine? Attachment, once again. I know it’s unlikely that all three chicks will survive. And the little one who made me sick with worry made me wish (fleetingly and insincerely) that it had not been retrieved, as it beat up its nest-mate. We are never happy, said Connie.