FEEL GOOD | Could new black eagle couple be readying for firstborn at Walter Sisulu gardens?

Makatsa and her new 'boyfriend'. (Supplied: Garth Heydenrych)
Makatsa and her new 'boyfriend'. (Supplied: Garth Heydenrych)

Lockdown love seems to be in the air for the resident black eagle couple in Roodekrans as all indications are that a chick could join the feathered family soon. 

According to Gerald Draper, chairperson of Black Eagle Project Roodekrans, this will be the firstborn for mom-to-be Makatsa and her new baby daddy, Mahlori, which means "miracle".   

The eagles nest at the Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens, Johannesburg. 

News24 earlier reported that Mahlori had made the gardens his home on 13 July last year. This after the previous male, Thulani, disappeared at the beginning of June, leaving Makatsa alone with a newborn chick.

The chick eventually died at the beginning of August last year. Thulani had been living in the gardens since 1998, while Makatsa has been there since 2016. 

Draper said, judging by the eagles' behavioural patterns, it was almost certain that the new couple had a little one on the way. 

According to Draper, it is difficult to "see" whether there is an egg under normal circumstances, not to mention under lockdown conditions, but that the birds' behaviour seemed to be consistent with a normal breeding pattern.  

READ | Makatsa the black eagle moving on with new 'boyfriend' after baby daddy flies off

"[Makatsa] is definitely incubating an egg. The only thing we don't know is when exactly it was laid." This could have happened on 18 or 19 April.  

"We had people up there on 17 April - these are some of the guys who have essential worker permits - who have been waiting to see when she starts to spend a lot of time on the nest. So, every time they go up, they spend an hour or so observing the eagles. Makatsa spent only a few minutes on the nest. But when they went back two days later, she was on the nest. They spent quite some time up there and during this time, she didn't move. 

Chick might hatch at beginning of June

"They eventually spent a few hours there [on 19 April] and she only moved twice, for about three minutes at a time. That immediately tells us that there is an egg."

Black eagles normally lay two eggs, four days apart, and only one chick ultimately survives after what is known as a "Cain and Abel" struggle, during which the stronger - and in most cases the older - sibling kills the other. The incubation period for a black eagle egg is between 44 and 45 days, which means that the first egg will hatch around the first three days of June. 

"We hope that we will be able to access the gardens by then to observe the hatching. Normally, the eagles will start to bring prey to the nest just before the egg hatches. That's what we always look for, because it either happens on the day the egg hatches or the day before."

Draper says the eagles' behaviour is consistent with their normal breeding cycle. "This is the first time that this particular couple will have a chick together, although it will be Makatsa's fourth since moving to the gardens."

Black eagles are typically winter breeders because they tend to nest on open cliffs, which means that they are more prone to suffer from heat than from cold. 

"The guys were there again on Thursday and she was still sitting tight - this is a very positive sign indeed."

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