Mr. President and the First Lady—the bald eagle versions, that is—hatched two chicks recently in the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington D.C. Thankfully for us, the American Eagle Foundation captured the fluffy little eaglets emerging from their shells on a solar-powered bald eagle nest cam.
The patriotic parents made an appearance in the same spot last year, hatching and rearing one eaglet. This small number is typical of bald eagle couples, which in some regions partner up for life. (In areas where these raptors have to migrate, it’s unclear if the pair’s bond survives the long trips.) Although they mate year round—which helps the avian partners bond—the females are only fertile for a two-week window per year.
Both parents share incubation duties, sitting on the eggs for a little over a month before the chicks hatch. After another four months, the chicks fledge and leave the nest. In the case of multiple offspring—depending on the conditions and circumstances—only one chick might make it to adulthood. The American Eagle Foundation notes that while they hope both of these chicks will survive to fledge this summer, sibling rivalry, predators, and natural disaster are also possible, less happy outcomes.
The United States’ national bird can be found across North America—from as far south as Florida and Mexico, to as far north as Alaska. But its numbers are sharply reduced today compared to centuries ago. According to the National Zoo, bald eagles once numbered between 25,000 and 75,000 in the contiguous United States, but habitat loss, poaching, and prey contaminated with lead and the pesticide DDT (which thins eggshells and killed off generations of birds) annihilated these raptors in the 20th century.
A series of regulations that included banning DDT allowed the population to recover somewhat, and today there are nearly 10,000 breeding pairs of bald eagles estimated to live in the lower 48. But the recent deaths of multiple bald eagles in Maryland and Delaware under mysterious circumstances make it clear that this species isn’t out of the woods yet.