DECORAH, Iowa - The hatching Wednesday morning of D18, the 18th bald eagle chick produced by the world-famous Decorah eagles, is "a miracle of nature," their godfather said.
"Given the extreme cold and heavy snow, we weren't sure any of the eggs would hatch," said Bob Anderson, director of the Raptor Resource Project, whose nest cam is viewed by millions.
"We've seen eagle nests fail under better conditions. I just can't believe they pulled off a baby," he said.
After laying their first egg on Feb. 23, "the eagles persevered through 40-below wind chills, direct temperatures of 20 below, multiple snowfalls, one of which covered the nest with over 10 inches of snow, and drenching rain," Anderson said.
Anderson said the parents diligently cared for their eggs, taking brief breaks from incubation only when the weather allowed and working almost continuously to bring fresh material in for the nest cup.
"We are thrilled that their skill and perseverance paid off," he said.
Anderson said the eagles in past years have exhibited excellent parenting skills, standing, for example, over their chicks to shield them from falling snow.
The successful hatching of the first egg bodes well for the other two, laid Feb. 26 and March 2, he said.
Anderson said he gave the parents a helping hand in feeding their new arrival. "I threw a skinned quail out by the nest tree, and the male flew right down and got it," he said
Anderson said nest cam viewers exploded Wednesday morning from a few hundred to more than 16,000 as word of the successful hatch spread. The news also prompted a spate of interview requests from news media and an inbox full of emails from well wishers, including several from teachers whose classes have been following the eggs' progress on the Internet, he said.
The Decorah eagles became international stars in 2011 when the view of their nest went viral on the Internet. More than 280 million people since have followed the eagle family from eggs to fledgling birds.
The eagles were offline during last year's nesting season after the parents moved their home from a tree overlooking the Decorah Fish Hatchery to another tree about 400 feet away.
After last year's three chicks left the new nest, it was fitted at a cost of more than $17,000 with cameras, microphones and cables.
The new setup includes a remotely operated pan-tilt-zoom camera, a fixed infrared cam for night viewing and audio.
The eagle nest can be viewed at http://www.ustream.tv/decoraheagles