Why We Can't Stop Watching the Decorah Eagles

Decorah eagle stands watch over an egg in the nest
The new dad eagle, dubbed DM2, protects the eggs in the Decorah nest in spring.

The Raptor Resource Project / Facebook

If you haven't been keeping up with the bald eagles in Iowa this year, it's time to catch up on nature's soap opera.

These nests have captured our rapt attention over the years — producing a total of 33 eaglets, with the promise of more to come. The ongoing story is fueled by webcams that share the flurry of daily activities at the Decorah and Decorah North nests — including laying eggs, hatching and caring for newborn eaglets.

Here's what you need to know about the magnificent feathered stars of Decorah and Decorah North. You may have caught the Decorah eagles during one of MNN's Facebook Live sessions like the one below. We'll continue to share those live cams throughout the season.

Decorah eagles

The birds: According to experts from the Raptor Resource Project, Dad is known as DM2 because he's the second Decorah male eagle for this nest. Dad, Mom’s original mate, disappeared in April of 2018. Mom had two other suitors before she accepted DM2 as her mate.

Based on her plumage color, Mom was 4 years old in 2007, making her 16 in 2019. All they know for sure about DM2 is that he is an adult eagle, which makes him at least 5 years old.

Mom is larger than DM2 and has a slightly darker head, a deeper brow and gray "eyeshadow" around her eyes. DM2 has a brown spot or discoloration above his left eye and he has dark "eyeliner" around his eyes.

Decorah mom eagle
The Decorah mom eagle rejected two suitors before settling on her current mate. The Raptor Resource Project/Facebook

The nest: The eagles have built three nests on their own. The first was destroyed in a storm. They left the second nest on their own, and the third also was destroyed in a storm. Members of the Raptor Resource Project started building a new nest for them out of sticks and leafy debris, hoping the eagles would finish it ... which they did. The new nest, as with the last, is close to the Decorah Trout Hatchery.

Laying eggs: Egg laying takes a lot of work. Mom moves around a bit and fine-tunes the nest bowl before becoming very still and settling over the egg cup. Here she is on Feb. 22 laying the first of her three eggs this season.

Mom laid the last of her three eggs on March 3. That's when the real work begins, according to a post from the Raptor Resource Project, "You long-time watchers know this, but eggs need to be turned, temperature controlled, and humidity controlled. Eagles do all this instinctively via input from their brood patches and possibly other sensors we don't know about."

Sadly, one of the eggs broke around March 11. Officials discovered the broken egg after noticing parts of the egg were stuck to the mom's feathers when she got up for a shift change.

While the team at Raptor Research Project isn't quite sure what happened, they don't believe either parent punctured the egg. One theory is that mom and dad didn't have enough time to get the egg cup fully padded because the egg was laid between two large snowstorms. Though the news is somber, officials believe there may be some positive to come out of it. Since the first egg and last egg were laid eight days apart, they believe that the younger eaglet would have struggled to defend itself against the older eaglet for food once they hatched.

Two eggs hatched on April 4 and April 7. Before hatching, Mom and DM2 kept the eggs sheltered and insulated with grasses and husks.

According to the Raptor Resource Project, both eaglets abandoned the nest early in June following intense blackfly swarms. They were picked up and cared for by Saving Our Avian Resources (SOAR). The male is still being cared for by SOAR; the female was released in the fall of 2019.

Decorah North eagles

The Decorah North eagles sit on their nest.
The Decorah North eagles sit on their nest. The Raptor Resource Project

The birds: Not much is known about these eagle parents. Members of the Raptor Resource Project think "Mr. North" may have been a father for the first time in 2016, based on the pair's egg-laying chronology, but there's no way to verify that since the birds are not banded. The current female is Decorah North Female or DNF. She replaced Mrs. North in the summer of 2018. The group doesn't know exactly how or when it happened.

The nest: This is the fourth nest built in the area since 2009. The first nest was built in a pine tree, but the branches collapsed after the second nesting season, so the birds moved to a dead elm tree. They only nested there for a single year, before moving in 2013 to a new location.

In August of 2018, that nest collapsed and slid or fell out of the tree during a heavy storm. Because none of the branches were broken or damaged, members of the Rapture Resource Project Project decided to build a starter nest in the same spot. This is their sixth season and second nest in this location.

The nest is on private property north of Decorah. The nest is seven feet long, four feet wide, about 3.5 feet high, and has a perimeter of roughly 18 feet. Situated about 56 feet off the ground, the nest is located in a white oak tree in a bit of forest bordering a valley.

Laying eggs: Mrs. North laid her first egg on Feb. 21 and her second on Feb. 25 on a very cold and windy day. Both hatched beginning on March 31, but one died shortly after hatch. The remaining eaglet abandoned the nest early following an intense blackfly swarm, according to the Raptor Resource Project. He was rescued, then cared for by SOAR until he was released in the fall of 2019.

Here's a look at the Decorah North eagles doing a shift change on the nest: