Our two chicks are a month old and they seem to be doing well. Since they hatched so close together, and since the parents seem to bringing in a decent amount of food, we haven’t seen a lot of intimidation or competition between the chicks, and they appear to be very close in size.
The chicks are definitely losing their woolier, darker down and are now getting their pin feathers. Feathers come from follicles (tiny bumps) that grow in rows or tracts on the bird’s skin. When the feather first comes out, it is rolled and protected inside a tube-like sheath that contains blood vessels, which nourish the feather’s growth. The bluish-coloring in the sheaths is blood; this is why they’re called blood feathers. You can see the blue sheaths in the photo below.
Once the feather has developed and burst through the sheath, the protective tube will fall away or possibly the bird will pull it off while preening. The blood vessels will have withered and the quill will be the white color we are familiar with seeing. Blood feathers are sensitive and if broken or injured, can cause severe bleeding and even death. When a blood feather is broken, it must be removed so the follicle can close and a new feather can be born.
In our last blog post, we talked about last year’s event when our chicks disappeared, which we believe was due to a predator. We also talked about the fact that we believed it was likely an owl. One of the reasons we thought that was because we have many bald eagles at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge and quite a few ospreys, and we have never seen an eagle take one of our Osprey Cam chicks. But recently a bald eagle took two chicks at the osprey cam at Hog Island in Maine. The video is a bit upsetting to see, but even more remarkable is how quickly the eagle takes the not-so-small chicks. Looking at this video clip, it makes the possibility of an eagle snatching an osprey chick very believable. Maybe we’ve just been lucky that we haven’t seen much of it at Blackwater Refuge because the eagles have a lot of other food types to choose from.