In March 2011, my friend (and principal--nice that I can say that), sent me a link to a live web cam of a bald eagle nest in the Norfolk Botanical Garden in Virginia. There were three just hatched eaglets being cared for by their mom & dad, and we could see it all on the Internet. My whole family fell in love with this eagle family, and very quickly it became part of our routine at school too. Each morning I would log into the cam and we would observe the mom and dad bringing in food, tearing it up, and feeding the babies. And each day the eaglets grew and changed. I would just leave the cam on all day and primates would periodically check on the eagle family. We wrote and drew in our nature journals, asked questions on the moderated discussion, painted eagle pictures, and read lots of books. It was an amazing learning experience for all of us, and such a unique view into a very private, secret world of nature.
In late April, after returning from lunch, I clicked on the cam, and read that an eagle had been killed by an airplane in Norfolk. For the rest of the day I was quietly glued to the computer to see if it was one of OUR eagles, and sadly, it turned out to be the mom. I still get choked up thinking about it. The entire community of eagle watchers were as stunned and saddened as we were, and one of my toughest days of teaching was telling the class. I had many students who were watching not only in class, but also at home. It was heartbreaking in the following two days to observe the dad still bringing in food for the confused eaglets, and even worse, when scientists made the decision to remove the eaglets from the nest and take them to a wildlife care center until they were ready to fledge. We watched the eaglets be removed, and the dad visit the empty nest for a day or two, until they turned off the camera. Eventually they installed a cam at the wildlife center and we were able to continue to see them grow into juveniles. Two days before school ended, we watched the release of these majestic birds, back into the wild. So lucky to have shared this final goodbye together!
We read reports from observers that the dad was doing well, though he never returned to the nest after that first week, and the hope is that he will find another mate this fall. The mother and father had been together for almost a decade, and had raised many eaglets together--observed and monitored by wildlife experts. The interactions we observed were incredible--the mom would push the dad aside and show him how to feed the babies. They would take turns keeping them warm, hunting for and feeding them, and the best times were when the whole family was together--just surviving. It really was an experience I will never forget.
There is so much crap on the Internet, and in many ways I am saddened by the negative influences of technology on childhood and society in general, but this was a beautiful example of the marvelous possibilities technology holds. We connected with people, classrooms, and families from all over the world through watching the web cam, and most of all, with this family of eagles, in a unique way.
At the end of the school year, one of my students gave me a beautiful necklace and pendant of a nest with three eggs. I wear it everyday, and it reminds me of this wonderful experience I shared with my primates, and my family, and so many others. I don't know why this is on my mind this morning, but I'm glad I'm recording it here in the blog, because it's a great example of real world learning--intimate, sad, and joyful--all at the same time.
"American symbols" are a required curriculum topic in our state, and I can't tell you how boring and dry a topic that is for little primates. But the eagle cam allowed us to inject life into learning about THE symbol of our country, and helped us feel a part of a greater good, a diverse community that we belong to and shared a common experience.
Miss you Mother Eagle! And so very grateful to have known you in your time on this planet.
|a nature journal sketch of mama eagle in the nest|
|my husband's art students constructing an eagles' nest from sticks and grapevines|
|sleeping eaglets by one of my primates (markers)|
|mama sitting on her eaglets by one of my primates (markers and pencil)|
|eagle's nest constructed by my primates outside our classroom|