A bald eagle in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, is proving just how far moms will go to keep their babies safe. Even being buried up to her head in the snow won’t stop this eagle mom, known as Bella, from keeping her eggs warm.Bella and her mate, Smitty, have returned to their nest 100 feet up in a large sycamore tree near the Potomac River every year since 2011 to raise their chicks.
“The eagles are amazingly good parents,” Randy Robinson, an instructional systems specialist for the National Conservation Training Center, said on Facebook Live. “They will sit on the eggs night and day, 24/7.”While both parents take turns caring for the eggs, the female eagle can be found sitting on the nest 80 percent of the time, while the male typically does the hunting and fishing.
Once the eagles lay their eggs, they have to endure all kinds of difficult conditions — from snow and hail to sleet and freezing rain. So even when a severe snowstorm rolls through, the mama eagle doesn’t budge.
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“They mate very early in the year in January or February, and they lay their eggs very early, so the weather is very bad with snow and ice like we’ve seen here the last couple weeks,” Robinson said. “The big advantage of laying their eggs early is that the young ones hatch early. And when these young ones hatch in mid-March, there will be plentiful food.”
The eagles’ thick down and feathers help them survive the cold temperatures, while their sharp beaks and talons allow them to fight off anyone who threatens the nest.
The female eagle is the larger of the two, and must constantly care for the eggs so they hatch successfully. That means making sure the eggs are always touching the bare skin on her belly, known as a brood pouch, and turning the eggs every hour so they heat evenly. She also has to fluff up the dry grass that acts as bedding so that the eggs have a soft and cozy place to rest.
Once the babies hatch, the work doesn’t end for the devoted parents. The young stay in the nest for about three more months while they gain the strength to fly and then, even after leaving the nest, their watchful parents continue to feed them and teach them to hunt.
People from around the world have been watching Smitty and Bella care for their babies on the National Conservation Training Center’s eagle nest livestream. And seeing the eagles’ loyalty to their eggs couldn’t be a more touching reminder of a parent’s love.