Harpy Eagle Chick: A Rough Patch

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Harpy eagle chick at 65 days old

Harpy eagle chick at 65 days old

The DNA sex results are in and the San Diego Zoo’s newest harpy eagle is a boy! (Read Beau’s previous blog, Harpy Eagle Chick Doubles Size.)

While male eagles are typically smaller than their female counterparts, as the holidays came and went this youngster was falling behind even the smallest healthy eaglets. The chick began to have trouble breathing, and a trip to the Zoo’s hospital was in order. With expert care from the veterinary staff, the eaglet was able to fight off a respiratory infection.

He wasn’t out of the woods yet, though, and shortly after returning from the hospital, he stopped eating entirely. For almost three weeks, committed care from vets and keepers kept the eagle afloat until he finally regained his appetite.

The chick is now back on track and, at over two months old, weighs in at nearly 6 pounds (2.7 kilograms), or almost 40 times his hatch weight! Each morning, after weighing, the eagle is carried outside in his nest tub and set in an outdoor pen. He is no longer being primarily hand fed but eats from a plate of chopped meat, which keepers set in his nest tub and replace throughout the day. The light gray feathers of his first-year plumage are opening up on his back and wings, and there’s sufficient strength in his legs now to stand for brief periods. Though he still won’t fledge for a few months, he’s beginning to flap his little wings, building up strength for when that day comes, and entertains himself by grabbing (or “footing”) the lining of his nest tub, practicing for even further down the road. Growing as fast as a baby eagle takes lots of energy though, and he still spends most of his day sleeping. At night, the tub with eaglet is brought inside where he is offered one last feeding before lights-out.

This past weekend, the chick hopped out of his nest tub for the first time. It’s just one small step toward fledging and an even smaller step toward independence. In the wild, young harpy eagles may stay around the nest for over a year! Even so, it’s an encouraging show of motivation from a chick that wouldn’t even feed itself three weeks ago.

Beau Parks is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo.

Read the Harpy Eagles blog.