Frigid winter threatens Decorah eagle eggs

March 29, 2014 | 4:05 am

The Decorah eagles, who laid their first egg Sunday, face their most challenging nesting season as they take turns trying to keep their eggs warm in subzero weather.

“I’m very worried. In all my years I’ve never seen eagles lay eggs in subzero weather before,” said Bob Anderson of Decorah, director of the Raptor Resource Project, the not-for-profit organization that developed the nest cam that's viewed on millions of computer screens each year.

“There’s nothing we can do but cross our fingers,” he said.

With this winter’s rogue polar vortex expected to generate subzero low temperatures and daytime highs hovering around 10 degrees for a week or longer, “one of the parents will have to stay on the nest at all times to keep the eggs from freezing,” Anderson said.

During a cold snap last winter, all three eagle eggs froze in a nest in St. Paul, Minn., Anderson said.

Though the eggs may be in peril, the Decorah eagles’ legion of fans should have excellent viewing with one eagle on the nest almost all the time, he noted.

Anderson said the first egg was laid at 4:55 p.m., Sunday, marking the 18th egg for the eagle couple. Their second egg should arrive Wednesday, and a third egg will likely be laid this weekend, he said.

Both eagles will take turns incubating the eggs, which should begin hatching 35 to 39 days after the first egg was laid, Anderson explained.

After freezing rain glazed the nest with ice last week, Anderson placed dry grass and straw in a nearby field. The male eagle gathered it and relined the nest, he said.

The Decorah pair became international stars in 2011 when the view of their nest went viral on the Internet. More than 280 million people since have followed the eagle family from eggs to fledgling birds, watching every aspect of life in a wild nest, Anderson said.

“We’ve seen the adults protect eggs and eaglets in raging snowstorms, stand guard against marauding animals and feed their ever-growing and always hungry young,” he said.

The eagles were offline during last year’s nesting season after the parents moved their home from a tree overlooking the Decorah Fish Hatchery to another tree about 400 feet away.

After last year’s three chicks left the new nest, it was fitted at a cost of more than $17,000 with cameras, microphones and cables.

The new set-up includes a remotely operated pan-tilt-zoom camera, a fixed infra-red cam for night viewing and audio.

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The eagles can be watched live at http://www.ustream.tv/decoraheagles Other links are available at http://www.raptorresource.org.

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