Urban Eagles; Year 2

This is a follow-up to my March 20, 2019 post, “The New Neighbors,” about the pair of bald eagles that moved into a big cottonwood tree two doors down from me in the middle of my south Minneapolis neighborhood. They actually have a street address.

Last year, the eagles built a nest, although it looked rather undersized. We thought there was only one chick, which grew to full size, fledged and seemed to be successfully flying around. Then, while out of town, we learned that a dead eagle chick was found in the front yard under the nest tree. That was very disappointing to hear, but later we saw an immature eagle around the nest. We concluded there must have been a second chick we didn’t know about. The nest is way up there and it’s hard to see what’s inside.

After the surviving young one flew off, a pair of torrential downpours completely washed away the nest. The big question was, would the eagles return?

This past fall and winter gave us renewed hope. By “us,” I mean the whole neighborhood. These birds are pretty well known now. We saw the adult pair flying around and most nights they roosted in the nest tree. What they find to eat all winter is a mystery, but there they were.

Sure enough, in February they started building exactly where the old nest had been. “Building” consists of breaking small branches and sticks off trees and dropping them into the chosen tree crotch. I even got to see one of them snap off a dead branch with its talons and deposit it on the nest. In the beginning, they miss a lot and the street and boulevard are covered with what amounts to kindling. In fact, I needed a supply of fireplace kindling, so I filled a plastic container with what they dropped.

Eventually, the sticks started accumulating and within a month it was a nest, bigger than the year before. Even after it appeared to be complete, they would periodically add to it.


One of the eagles next to its completed nest, while the tree was still bare. | Photo: Author

OK, nest built. Would there be eggs? Within a month it was obvious that a bird was sitting on the nest much of the time, although it was hard to see more because of the angle.

The thing about eagle chicks is they’re noisy, and that’s how we knew they had hatched. The regular call is five or six short shrieks in quick succession, repeated every minute or so for most of the day and often at night, although there are periods of silence that I can’t explain. When an adult shows up with food, that triggers the begging call, which is a little less sharp but is continuous until the adult flies away. As the chicks grow, the calls get louder and lower pitched.

Chick In Nest

One of the chicks in the nest. | Photo: Author

Young eagles grow at a tremendous rate and within a couple of months are adult sized. By now we could clearly see the heads of two chicks. Last week, the first one ventured out onto the branch next to the nest where the adults normally perch. A couple of days ago the second one joined the first.

Today (July 8th) was big news. The older chick took its first flight. I heard the begging call and went out for a look. There was an adult up by the nest, but the call was coming from somewhere else. Then I saw two of my neighbors staring at a small honey locust boulevard tree next to the nest tree. Perched in the middle of it, maybe 15 feet off the ground, was the chick. Clearly it hadn’t wound up there on purpose. It started to rain so I went back inside.

Honey Locust

The chick’s erratic first flight ended in a honey locust next door. | Photo: Author

The rain passed and an hour later I went out to see how things were developing. My neighbors were out again and pointed to another cluster of people down the block. Apparently, the chick had landed on a roof, then another tree and now it was standing in someone’s front yard. As we watched, it strolled away between the houses. Everyone was concerned.

Img 1164

Where am I? The chick lands down the block, surrounded by concerned humans. | Photo: Author

I had been emailing progress reports to Gail Buhl, who works with injured eagle chicks at the U of M Raptor Center, so now I called her and described what was happening. Not to worry, she responded. Eagle chicks always blunder about when they’re learning to fly. When it’s hungry the chick will call. The parents will find it and bring it food. All this is perfectly normal.

Later, my neighbor told me she saw it flying clumsily around and it was somewhere in the next block.

Tonight, I checked again. The second chick was perched outside the nest, probably anticipating its own maiden flight. The first one wasn’t around, but it should be back.


Aaron Isaacs

About Aaron Isaacs

Aaron retired in 2006 after 33 years as a planner and manager for Metro Transit, where he worked in route and schedule planning, operations, maintenance, transit facilities, light rail and traffic advantages for buses. He's an historian of transit, as a 40+ year volunteer with the Minnesota Streetcar Museum. He's co-author of Twin Cities by Trolley, The Streetcar Era in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and author of Twin Ports by Trolley on Duluth-Superior.