I was primed for baby birds with all the nests at the farm. There were Carolina wrens in the barn and barn swallows in their mud nest on the porch.

And then, in its own viral way that the internet has, right here in spring when animal babies are everywhere, I started watching the Iowa Decorah Bald Eagles.

I am not even sure now how I heard about them, but I started watching right after the first two eggs had hatched and the third one was a day away.

In case you don’t know what I am talking about, there is a big old cottonwood tree that has a 1000 pound nest, high above a fish hatchery, in Decorah Iowa. Two hundred thousand or more people are watching them every day. You can watch them night and day, because a high def camera is trained on them in the daylight and at night they switch to Army-like infrared technology. The cameras are about 5 feet above the nest, on a branch in the tree.

The nest is over 5 feet across, but it doesn’t look that big, because as big as eagles are they take up a lot of space. I’ve watched enough that I can now tell who is minding the nest, Dad or Mom. But what has been intriguing is seeing how these birds work out parenthood.

The first weeks of the eaglets life is about being protected under the parent, whoever is minding the nest, and there is always someone at the nest in those early days. The babies are down in the ‘bowl’ of the nest, the deepest part, and you can see how the parent fits the babies under them when they change guard. Lining their bodies up and with a slight straddle to the legs, they ball up their talons so as not to injure the eaglets and gently move across the little baby wad of birds. Once over them, they rock their bodies from side to side, moving the babies up into an even tighter ball, until safely warm and cuddled, and the parents keep themselves lifted slightly above them.

Feeding time is all about tearing little bits of meat or fish, held gently between those raptor beaks, and with heads turned sideways, the little piece of meat is placed temptingly at the baby eagles’ eager mouth. The storehouse for the meat tearing is all around the outside of the large nest as both parents provide the larder. I’ve seen fish, muskrat, rook, and squirrel and it was exhilarating the first time I saw just the edge of the talons as the Dad dropped a big fish onto the nest. Baby eagles start eating right away and I watched a long time to see if those adult birdbrains held in the snowy white heads remembered to feed each eaglet. They did. Always. Until they were full and their mouths refused to open more and quite literally they appeared to pass out splayed across the bowl or piled on top of each other.

I don’t know if all eagles are good parents, but these are.

You cannot watch these birds and not realize that their life is about one thing and one thing only: raising future eagles. Their lives are dedicated, completely to preparing a home for them and then caring for their every need, every minute of the day and night, until they leave. At which point, they do it again. This pair have been mated for three years. He doesn’t go out looking for some extra little bird piece on the side and she doesn’t complain that she is the one that sits on the next almost all night, every night, her head nodding off into what appears to be complete exhaustion. they each do whatever it takes and there appears to be no accounting for who did what.

They are mated for life.

One night a storm blew through Decorah. The wind kicked up and it wasn’t hard to find out that the wind gusts, up high in that cottonwood tree were supposed to be above 50 mph. Those fluffs of white looked like they could blow off that tree, live cottony catkins that wouldn’t make it safe to the ground, should they blow. The female took up her spot on the nest and with her back to the wind and the camera, you could watch as her feathers, especially that tail were blown back up over her head. The nest rocked and she rocked, but the cottony babies were safe tucked under her breast. The story was that Dad rode out the storm about 5 feet away unless he went hunting. They made it safe, the next morning ready to eat, the little live catkins, dining on fly covered fish guts.

It looks all quite tenuous, as I watch from my arm chair in Houston. Incredibly so. But as each day goes by, it’s obvious, the Decorah Eagles are thriving.

I suppose I will watch until the babies fledge. It’s possible that E1, E2, and E3 will all live to find their own mates. I hope so. But there are probably reasonable odds they all won’t.

I cannot help but think, as I watch those magnificent birds and admire what seems the apex of selflessness in parenting, that while they are cognitive of the danger of owls at night and babies top close to the nest edge before they have functioning wings, yet they know nothing of good or bad, sin or blessing, money or loss. Their soul, their bird soul, is intent on one thing and one thing only, to follow the instinct that leads to the assurance that those of their kind continue. And they do and have.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”

So when a man named Christ, told that above to a group of people, who could not have been any different than we, in their worries and doubts and disappointments, did they understand just what he was saying?

I saw an eagle nest once, from the ground, when I had three little sons in tow. From the ground I looked up and saw the huge mass of limbs and sticks and debris. This week I have watched, the intimate life of an Eagle family, and never, I say never, have I understood more what Christ was talking about as I do now.

The Decorah Eagles
The night the owl came: [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sZk7K3ICzM8[/youtube]

PS Eaglet perform projectile pooping. They bob their head forward, put their little bird butts in the air and out shoots poop, way past the bowl of the nest. Nifty, huh?