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Why the eggs from Big Bear's internet-famous eagles may never hatch

There are a number of factors that could explain why an eagle’s eggs may never hatch, including weather, lack of food and the age of the parents.
Why the eggs from Big Bear's internet-famous eagles may never hatch
Posted at 11:15 AM, Mar 11, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-11 19:02:30-04

The world is watching bald eagle parents, Jackie and Shadow, in California’s Big Bear Valley as the pair take turns caring for their eggs, waiting for them to hatch. But the eaglets everyone is hoping to see may never come. 

According to Friends of Big Bear Valley, the organization hosting the popular live cam of the eagles, the eggs were laid on Jan. 25, 28 and 31 in a nest tucked into the San Bernardino Mountains overlooking Big Bear Lake.

Big Bear eagle expert Sandy Steers told television news outlet KTLA last week that the first of the eggs was already 38 days old, which is longer than bald eagle eggs are typically incubated before hatching. But there was still hope for the other two eggs. 

However, after this weekend, all of Jackie and Shadow’s eggs are now over 38 days incubated based on the dates provided by the organization, as March 11 marks day 40 for the last egg laid. 

In its most recent Facebook post, the Friends of Big Bear Valley said there were still no changes in the pip watch — or monitoring the eggs for cracks — as of Sunday night. 

A retired professor who goes by the online name of “elfruler” maintains a blog dedicated to observing and researching bald eagle nest cams across the country. Data curated from bald eagle cams between 2006 to 2016 shows one of the longest incubation periods for a clutch of eggs was a little over 40 days, with the average time being 36.5 days. 

The data on elfruler’s blog also shows that the first egg in an eagle’s clutch of multiple eggs almost always takes longer to hatch than the ones laid after it. This is usually due to the fact that later eggs are incubated more consistently than earlier eggs, therefore developing more quickly and hatching in less time, according to elfruler.

Sadly, this research doesn’t bring a feeling of hopefulness for Jackie and Shadow’s beloved chicks. 

SEE MORE: Must watch live cam: Bald eagles Jackie and Shadow await hatchlings

There are a number of factors that could explain why an eagle’s eggs may never hatch, including weather, the age of the parents, and disruption from human activity — or the egg may have never been properly fertilized to begin with. 

Another issue could be hatching failure, in which a chick begins the hatching process but dies before it can fully emerge, elfruler wrote, but it’s hard to determine if that is the cause from the limited view of a webcam. 

“It is often impossible to know whether a broken or unhatched egg was infertile or nonviable,” elfruler said. 

And if the egg does not break apart from the natural progression of deterioration after it doesn’t hatch, “the parents do not know whether it is infertile or nonviable, and they may continue to incubate it for days or even weeks beyond the time it should have hatched,” elfruler continued. 

The Friends of Big Bear Valley said this is the second year in a row that Jackie and Shadow hoped to welcome offspring. Jackie reportedly laid eggs last year that didn't develop into chicks.

The nonprofit installed its livestream eagle camera in 2016, with the support of the U.S. Forest Service. It has since detailed the love stories and journeys of eagles attempting to start a family on its website and social media. 

“Whether you are a new or long time viewer of Jackie and Shadow, we can all clearly see the genuine love and care this pair has for one another. Perhaps we can all take a page out of their love story and use it to draw us all together,” the organization wrote Sunday. “No matter what the outcome of this chapter may be, we know from past years they will take it in stride, remain strong and resilient and move forward. Hopefully, we can accept this as a wonderful gift from Jackie and Shadow and view it as a teachable moment for all of us to do the same.”

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