Watch: Live cam shows baby bald eagle hatching at National Arboretum. Second egg is expected to hatch over weekend.
WASHINGTON — In a country deeply divided in its politics, the birth Friday of a bald eagle, the national bird, managed to unite quite a few people.
Tens of thousands tuned in to watch the birth via a live video stream from the National Arboretum. And many are still watching, hoping to catch a glimpse of the baby while awaiting the hatching of a second eaglet, which is expected this weekend.
The solar-powered cameras and equipment system near the nest in a tulip poplar tree on the 400-acre property in Northeast Washington gave office workers, schoolchildren and bird lovers both near and far a close-up view of the four-foot-wide by two-foot-deep nest.
Viewers saw the first cracks in the shell Wednesday evening. Then, on Friday morning, the “itty, bitty beak,” as one viewer called it, poked through the shell, followed by gray, soft feathers. Then poof! The mother bald eagle carefully pulled back the shell, and a new eaglet came into the world at 8:27 a.m. Eastern time.
“It’s amazing,” said Daniel Rauch, a wildlife biologist at the District’s Department of Energy and Environment. “Bald eagles are our national symbol. They’re charismatic animals, and seeing one born in the wild like this is very unique.”
The cameras offered a front-row seat to nature for those more accustomed to using their laptops and mobile devices for watching YouTube videos. Over the past week, the mother eagle, known as the First Lady, got up off the eggs to rearrange twigs and grass in the nest and rotate the eggs, her white feathers blowing in the breeze. Dad, aka Mr. President, also helped — keeping the eggs warm and bringing home food: fresh fish. After the birth, Mama fed bits of fish to a wobbly-headed eaglet.
“People are getting a fantastic window into their world,” Rauch said. “It’s an awesome chance to view nature as it happens. This is real reality TV.”
Viewers from as far away as the Netherlands watched and weighed in on social media as the eaglet hatching unfolded. Tina Camporeale wrote: “Forget about Trump, start watching this, it’s much more interesting.” Angela Leonard-Soll, wrote: “Can’t stop watching!” And Tim DeFelice called the live-streaming “The Truman Show for Eagles!”
The First Lady and Mr. President began a nest at the arboretum in 2014. Last summer, the pair saw the birth of one eaglet. (Initially, officials said more than one eaglet had hatched, but after reviewing photographs and observations by arboretum staff members and D.C. eagle biologists, they reversed themselves.)
On Feb. 10, the First Lady laid one egg and then another on Feb. 14. Eagles have a roughly 35-day incubation period, so the first one hatched “right on the money,” said Julia Cecere, a spokeswoman for the American Eagle Foundation in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.
The popularity of the impending births gave a boost to the foundation, a small nonprofit organization that has tracked the arboretum eagles. The group touted that it hit 100,000 likes on its Facebook page from people interested in the arrival of the eaglets.
News that the hatching had started was trending on Twitter at one point. Friday morning, there were 50,000 viewers on the live stream at the same time at one point, Cecere said. And the birth got a shout-out on national morning talk shows.
For now, the new eaglet is named DC2, because the pair of bald eagles had another eaglet last year at the arboretum. The second eaglet, which has been named DC3, is expected to hatch possibly as early as Sunday. The public soon will have a chance to come up with official names for the eaglets.
The bald eagles setting up their nest at the arboretum was a big deal, because it was the first nest spotted there since 1947. Having eaglets there — and being able to watch the hatching live — is even more rare, experts said.
“I’ve been doing this for 13 years, and I’ve never seen this,” Rauch said.
“We know the entire saga of this pair,” he said. “From the time they paired up together, through their courtship, building a nest, and now we’ve been able to see them hatch their egg and care for it.”
The draw of watching the eagles is similar to the popularity of the live cameras on the giant pandas and the young cub at the National Zoo, animal experts said. And watching them online puts some people as close as they’ll get to the great outdoors.
“They’re symbols of conservation having worked,” Rauch said of pandas and eagles and the public’s obsession with hearing — and watching — them in their habitats.
Bald eagle pairs in the U.S. dropped to fewer than 500 in the 1960s but have since recovered, and now there are more than 10,000 pairs in the country, biologists said. Bald eagles were removed from the endangered species list in 2007, but there are strict federal rules protecting them.
It was a challenge to install cameras and other equipment near the nest to watch the pair of bald eagles at the arboretum. Workers had to run a half-mile of fiber-optic cable to the control box about 200 feet from the tree. The system gets power from a large solar array that was designed, built and staffed by the Alfred State College’s School of Applied Technologies in Wellsville, New York.
Wildlife specialists also were involved, to reduce disturbance to the eagles. In the spring, experts plan to take blood samples from eaglets at nest sites in the arboretum and in the D.C. area. Each eaglet is expected to get a leg band for identification.
Ed Clark, president and founder of the Wildlife Center of Virginia, said often people find themselves drawn to watching the eagle cam until darkness hits and then again as the sun rises.
Watching it, he said, “just gives us something inspiring.”
“Maybe it gives us hope that the world isn’t entirely going to hell in a handbasket,” he said.