Eagle and three eaglets, from the MN DNR Eagle Cam

Nature is Harsh

In most workplaces the “water cooler” conversation tends to revolve around the latest episode of Game of Thrones or the most recent workplace gossip. Not where I work. I work for an industrial manufacturer and oddly enough the topic that comes up the most in conversation is the DNR’s Eagle-cam and the three little eaglets born in early March.

I find that as a volunteer wildlife rehabber I get a lot of questions from co-workers about various animal-related topics but lately the questions I get the most are about these fluffy little nestlings. One co-worker in particular is very concerned that the parents keep flying off, leaving the newborns (at this point about 3 weeks old) alone for extended periods of time. She also feels that one of the nestlings is always getting less food than the others, crowded out by its siblings and ignored by its parents. She’s a mom and she gets angry about the unfairness of it all.

All I can say is, nature is hard, man, and it’s all about survival from day one.

This screenshot from the MN DNR's Eagle-cam shows the three nestlings napping away after having been fed dinner.
This screenshot from the MN DNR’s Eagle-cam shows the three nestlings napping away after having been fed dinner.

That little eagle just might not make it. Sometimes siblings fight for resources and there is a loser. And if they survive nestling-stage to fledgling, chances are they may not survive that first flight. Life is incredibly hard for animals in the wild and they have to be hard in order to survive. It’s difficult and unpleasant to think about, but it’s the wild – a world we humans left long ago and so left behind our understanding of its ways and right to judge them.

People often anthropomorphize wild animals; that is they assign human values, traits, and characteristics to animals in order to better relate to them and try to understand their world. We all do this, especially those of us with pets. My co-worker is judging the eagle parents by what she knows to be good parenting in her world. As humans we would (hopefully) never leave a three-week old alone and unattended in the house for hours on end while we went out for dinner and did some grocery shopping. So obviously the eagle parents should not be doing that to their children, right?

Using human values to determine the parenting aptitude of wild animals also ends up resulting in the kidnapping of countless animals every year. A good example of this is fawns. Doe must leave their young for very long periods of time in order to keep themselves fed and healthy so they can keep their offspring fed and healthy. Fawns are awkward and can’t run very well so if they are out with mom while she’s eating, a predator would make easy prey of the little one. So the fawn stays curled up, hiding in the brush, until mom returns. We just can’t stand to see a baby alone, though, so we assume the mother is horrible at her job and that we know better.

This orphaned fawn was rescued in June 2014. Its mother had been killed. Wildwoods placed the fawn with other rescued deer and it was later released. (Photo by Trudy Vrieze). From the article “Fawning over fawns” by John Jordan, published in the Duluth Budgeteer.

Let me tell you one thing, reader: mom ALWAYS knows better than you about raising her children to be survivors in the wild. Sometimes this means letting a little one go, and that is hard to watch, but you will never convince an eagle to change its child-rearing ways no matter how many Parenting Magazine subscriptions you send it. Instead of convincing ourselves that we make a better parent than the actual parent (and this goes for human parents too) how about we take a step back and realize that these babies are not from our world and we are not from theirs. We (including the most experienced wildlife rehabbers) make horrible substitutes for an animal’s real mom. It will not get the best nutrition from us. It will not learn to be wild or how to survive from us.

Absolutely feel bad for the little eaglet if he doesn’t make it, but please, let’s check our indignation at the door and not get all up in arms about the sibling that killed it’s nest-mate, or the parent that left it’s baby alone for a few hours. Appreciate how hard nature is and be thankful for the survivors. Allow yourself to be taken in complete awe at the beauty despite the brutality. Nature is unto itself and it demands our respect.

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