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There are many references to eagle pushing their young off the nest to make them know how to fly, for example this motivational video.

It is also described in this website:

Let me show you "the ways of an eagle" in the nest, and give you a picture of our lives as well. After the eaglets get to a certain size, or maturity, everything changes! One day the mother eagle comes back from being gone, but this time there’s no food in her beak, and she doesn’t land on the edge of the nest. Instead, she hovers over the nest.

You may not know this, but an eagle can do almost what a hummingbird can do. Even though they are great birds, they can remain almost motionless in midair with those great wings just undulating in the breeze. They do this about three feet above the nest. I’m sure if little eagles could talk to one another—and maybe they can—one would certainly say, "My, what strong wings Mommy has."

Why does the mother do this? She is demonstrating that those curious appendages on the babies’ backs have a useful function. Eagles, of course, were meant to fly, but they don’t know that. If we take an eagle and separate it at birth from its parents, it will never learn to fly. It will just grovel around in the dirt like a chicken. It might even look up and see eagles soaring overhead and never guess that it was meant to soar in the heavens.

Eagles have to be taught, and that’s the mother’s job. So first she just demonstrates.

The next thing she does is come down into the nest and surprise her young. One can imagine how warm it must normally be for the little eagles to snuggle with their mother and be enshrouded with her feathers, but this time she puts her head up against one of the little ones, and pushes that little one closer and closer to the edge of the nest. ("Hey mom, mom, what are you doing?")

All at once she pushes the little one out of the nest, and the eaglet falls down the face of the cliff, surely to be destroyed. But not so! In a flash the great mother eagle flies down, catches the little one on her back, and flies up and deposits it in the nest. ("Whew! Mom, that must have been an accident.") But it wasn’t an accident. The mother bird pushes the little one out again, and again, over and over.

Why would a mother do that to her young? Does she hates the little one? Not at all. It’s just that those little birds were made to fly, and they don’t know it, so she is going to push them out of the nest. She never lets them hit bottom, but she does let them fall, because they have to learn something they don’t know.

The next time the mother bird comes back she decides to clean house, and so she stands on the edge of the nest. The first things to go are the feathers inside; she drops them over the edge. Then the leaves go over the edge—heave ho! While this is going on, she’s not very talkative, either. ("Mom, what are you doing?") She pays no attention. Since she built the house, she knows how to take it apart.

Next she decides to take the sticks out of the middle of the nest, and with her great strong beak and feet, she’s able to break them off and stand them straight up. ("Mom, it’s not comfortable in here anymore.") Then she takes certain key sticks out of the nest and throws them over the edge. ("What are you doing, Mom? You are wrecking my room.")

She seemingly pays no attention to the concerns of her young as she prepares to pull the nest apart, for she is determined that those little ones will fly, and she knows something they don’t. She knows they will never fly as long as they remain in the nest.

However, looking at this very interesting documentary on white-tailed eagle, the young eagles don't learn to fly by getting pushed as described in the motivational video, but they learned flying by practicing their wings on good winds.

Looking from the nesting place (cliff), I read that it might be Golden Eagle. But the section describing the fledgling doesn't say anything about the parent eagle pushing the young, although it does say about "jumping off":

The first attempted flight departure can be abrupt, with the young jumping off and using a series of short, stiff wing-beats to glide downward or being blown out of nest while wing-flapping. The initial flight often includes a short flight on unsteady wings followed by an uncontrolled landing.

Does Golden Eagle really push their young to teach them flying? If not, which species is it?

In case it's not clear, I am also interested in references that describes the eagle behavior in more details. It would be good if there is a video documentary, but considering that capturing this moment on tape might be difficult, that's not my utmost concern.

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  • $\begingroup$ I thought Eagles would push their babies off three times, and afterwards would let them fall if they didn't learn to fly. $\endgroup$ – user17607 Aug 31 '15 at 17:57
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I am pretty sure this doesn't happen with eagles, and I have no idea why this would be written.

But not so! In a flash the great mother eagle flies down, catches the little one on her back, and flies up and deposits it in the nest. ("Whew! Mom, that must have been an accident.") But it wasn’t an accident."

This is flight, alright: a pure flight of fancy.

There have been many hundreds of videocams set up in all kinds of remote locations so that behavior in the wild can be studied. Some of the most popular cams in recent years have been the eagle cams (e.g. at eagles.org). They are live during nesting season and record for all the behavior of eagles.

If the parents did not feed their young, as described in the fabrication above, the young would starve to death, as it takes time to learn to fly. If anything, the eagle parents must increase the feeding to keep up with the nutritional needs of the growing chicks, and the muscle building taking place. The parents don't stop feeding until a while after they're flying well.

Eagles don't learn "learn" why they have wings by observing the mother eagle hovering above them (pure anthropomorphizing). They leave the nest and start roaming on the branches, practicing hopping, landing, and building up their wing strength. Eventually flying, they still come back to the nest to feed. In this video from British Columbia (not the most exciting in the world) you can see exactly this happening with bald eagles. Eventually the young eagles scavenge and learn to hunt for themselves. It takes time. This page describes the fledgling feeding and flight behavior.

While I am not going to try to find an eagle that behaves in the bizarre manner you've found and asked about, I will say that eagles are eagles and more or less behave pretty similarly. The most common eagle in the world is the bald eagle. The Golden behaves like the Bald. Eagle behavior is influenced by habitat, etc. Wikipedia has a page listing 60 species of eagles. Picking a random eagle from another part of the world (in this case, the Sub-Saharan Martial eagle, this information seems to confirm that attentiveness of adult eagles and fledgling behavior is similar though not without species variation:

Martial eagles have a slow breeding rate, laying usually one egg (rarely two) every two years. The egg is incubated for 45 to 53 days and the chick fledged at 96 to 104 days. Despite increasing signs of independence (such as flight and beginning to practice hunting), juvenile birds will remain in the care of their parents for a further 6 to 12 months. Due to this long dependence period, these eagles can usually only mate in alternate years.

I'm sure I'm not the first to warn you not to believe everything you read on the internet.

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    $\begingroup$ I see. I like the knowledge about eagles that you share, but I sense a slight negativity in the sentiment. Perhaps we can try to discuss in more neutral manner. =) Btw, can you point out the section in the story above where it describes "the parents did not feed their young"? As shown in the documentary I linked in my question (starts from 20:20), the parent eagle did still feed the young, but it also did limit the food given to the young, to encourage the young to find food themselves. $\endgroup$ – justhalf Jan 3 '15 at 7:13
  • $\begingroup$ "One day the mother eagle comes back from being gone, but this time there’s no food in her beak, and she doesn’t land on the edge of the nest. Instead, she hovers over the nest." Yes, there is negativity. A lot of that passage is pure fabrication, which I do not like, and feel is an ethical violation, hence the sentiment you correctly picked up on. There is no reason at all to take a kindly attitude towards the spreading of falsehoods. $\endgroup$ – anongoodnurse Jan 3 '15 at 7:20
  • $\begingroup$ Can you confirm what I noticed in the documentary? I copy again here: "As shown in the documentary I linked in my question (starts from 20:20), the parent eagle did still feed the young, but it also did limit the food given to the young, to encourage the young to find food themselves." This is an observed behaviour, right? $\endgroup$ – justhalf Jan 3 '15 at 7:22

protected by Community Oct 25 '15 at 12:12

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