By Mackenzie Tatananni for Dailymail.Com
19:55 February 8, 2024, updated 00:05 February 9, 2024
Jackie, a bald eagle, shakes dust from his feathers as he perches on a snowdrift overlooking a California valley.
Invisible to the eye, there is a cozy nest underneath, kept warm by body heat.
Jackie has been protecting her three eggs from the elements since a powerful atmospheric river hit the region last week.
And unbeknownst to her, thousands of people are watching at any given time.
The 24-hour Big Bear Eagle Nest Cam was installed in 2015 and has been broadcast to audiences around the world ever since. It is sponsored by Friends of Big Bear Valley, a nonprofit conservation and advocacy organization.
As deadly storms rocked California last week, 12-year-old Jackie and her companion Shadow faced the cold in the camera’s eyes.
The couple lives high in the San Bernardino Mountains, about 100 miles east of Los Angeles.
Their nest has been in active use since fall 2013, according to Friends of Big Bear Valley.
The surrounding area, all national forest, is closed to the public during nesting season, as eagles are known to abandon their nests when disturbed by humans.
Historically, birds only wintered in Big Bear Valley to find foods like fish and waterfowl unavailable on frozen lakes farther north. Recently, the duo took up permanent residence.
About two weeks ago, Jackie laid two eggs. Just before the first storm, she delivered a third.
As soon as the snow fell, she hunkered down, only taking a break the following afternoon when the precipitation stopped. It was then that Shadow arrived on the scene.
“This was the first time Shadow had seen three eggs in the nest,” wrote Sandy Steers, a biologist and executive director of the organization.
‘He kept looking at them as he stretched his legs around them… but his legs didn’t go around all of them when they were side by side.
‘”It had worked the day before… why wasn’t it working now?” Realizing something was definitely different – or perhaps after counting them – he rolled up the eggs and placed them on top.
The scene was momentarily peaceful. The nest provided a stunning view of the thawing lake below and the ground covered in white powder.
Then the wind came. As tropical storm-force gales rocked the nest, Shadow looked frightened. Fortunately, Jackie returned in time to take over.
The pair exchanged a few words in the form of tense chirps and switched places.
Shadow retreated to a nearby branch as the wind shook the tree.
As soon as the rain started, Jackie put away her eggs. When it began to snow, the loving mother stretched her wings, shook herself well to remove the dust, and persisted.
“During bad weather, eagles fly less and are protected from the elements,” Steers explained.
“During incubation, we may also notice them lying very still like Jackie did, which is to conserve energy.”
Jackie just stood up to readjust herself before settling back down, being careful not to hurt her babies.
The pair took turns laying eggs, as is typical of bald eagles. Both males and females develop a brood patch – a featherless patch of skin – on their chest during nesting, which allows them to keep their eggs close to their body heat.
While one parent guarded the nest, the other hunted or roosted nearby. As the storm raged, Jackie was stationary for 35 hours straight.
Eagles store food in the harvest, a muscular pouch near the throat. They can go a day without eating anything.
As soon as the sky cleared, Jackie paused and Shadow sprang into action.
The father was seen carefully turning the eggs with his beak. The eagles will do this once an hour to ensure that they are heated evenly and that the embryos do not stick to the inside of the shells.
The breeding season varies by latitude – in California it generally extends from January to July or August.
Incubation lasts about 35 days and the chicks fledge when they are 11 or 12 weeks old.
February 29 marks the start of ‘pip watch,’ according to Friends of Big Bear Valley. When the eggs hatch, a passionate audience is sure to tune in.
But for Jackie it will be just another day in the life of a mother.
She delivered two eggs in January last year. A month later, Steers expressed concern after record snowfall hit the valley.
The eggs took a long time to hatch and the eagle pair suffered a traumatic loss in March when their brood was eaten by crows, live on camera.