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Where do bald eagles go at night if not in their own nests?

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I've recently learned of a local eagle cam and have been enjoying watching a pair of bald eagles and their three chicks. While I don't have access to many days of video to check (the site buffers 12 hours), I have noticed a pattern the past few nights that I'm curious about.

Throughout the night (or spot-checks, anyway; it's not like I'm watching all of it in real time), I've noticed that one of the adults is almost always present, but not both. Usually it seems to be "standing guard" just outside the nest, like this:

blurry screen-grab: three chicks sleeping in nest, adult on branch at edge facing away from the camera

The preferred position seems to be facing away from the camera, so even if the night-time video weren't low-res I can't tell if the bird seems alert or is sleeping.

Occasionally the adult is instead in the nest with the chicks:

adult sitting up in middle of nest, awake as far as I can tell

But it's always just one adult when I've checked, though if the other were nearby and just out of camera range, I wouldn't be able to tell. During the daytime the adults don't seem to be reluctant to share the nest.

If it's not nearby, where does the other adult go? Bald eagles are, I understand, diurnal, so I wouldn't expect it to be that active at night. But when it's not active, wouldn't it "go home" to its nest?

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2 comment threads

Same question applies to most birds. (1 comment)
The other parent might be the one actually guarding (1 comment)

1 answer

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We don't get bald eagles where I live, but I understand that once the chicks are old enough to keep themselves warm, the parents start to leave them alone for increasing periods during the day and night. Eventually they sleep entirely outside the nest, usually on a high branch nearby where they can guard the chicks. A lot of birds sleep half their brains at a time, keeping one eye open - according to hdontap, it isn't known whether bald eagles do this, but it's possible that both parents are able to stand guard all night.

Based on the above, my guess is the other parent is perching nearby out of the camera's view. It might well be sitting opposite the visible parent's perch so the pair can watch all sides.

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