Blizzard babies? Pip watch has begun for bald eagles Jackie and Shadow as storm rolls in

Two eagles on a nest with a mountain lake in the background.
Shadow, left, and Jackie at their Big Bear aerie on Thursday, the first day of pip watch. (Friends of Big Bear Valley)

The next phase in the family drama of Jackie and Shadow has begun. Fans who track the lives of the Big Bear bald eagles via their 24-hour live webcam are now maintaining a vigil known as pip watch.

There are three eggs in the couple's jumbo nest, which measures about 5 feet across and 5 deep and sits atop a towering Jeffrey pine with a shining mountain lake as a backdrop. A three-egg clutch is a rarity for bald eagles and a first for Jackie. As of Thursday, it had been 35 days since the first egg was laid, marking the official start of the watch.

But what is a pip?

"The pip is when there's a visible bump or crack in the eggshell that we can see," said biologist Sandy Steers, showing "the chick is making some movement to try to get out."

Read more: Triple surprise: Big Bear eagles Jackie and Shadow have 3 eggs for first time

Viewers of the solar-powered webcam, which is trained on the couple's nest and can helpfully zoom in on the action, will watch for signs that the chicks are emerging.

But Steers recommends patience.

The 23-year executive director of Friends of Big Bear Valley — which installed the webcam in 2015 — has been through this before.

"For Jackie," she said, "it usually has been Day 38 or 39 when hers have started pipping. So it will probably be a few days."

But there's an added twist in this story. A blizzard was barreling into Mammoth, Tahoe and the Sierra Nevada on Thursday with high winds and heavy snow. The forecast for Big Bear Lake called for a winter storm watch from Friday night through Sunday afternoon — prime pipping time.

Just like with human babies, eaglets arrive when they arrive — storm or no. So the hatching could occur out of view of the camera, entirely beneath the parent sitting on the nest. If it's snowing, Steers noted, Jackie will hunker down to keep the eggs warm. Earlier this month, a storm covered the entire nest and the mother eagle along with it as she sat on the nest for 62 hours straight.

Read more: Bald eagle Jackie spent 62 hours straight protecting her eggs. Next up: Pip watch

Any chicks that hatch should be safe from the elements, as they're small enough for their parents to keep them warm. Of the eggs that Jackie and Shadow have had over the nearly nine years since the webcam was installed, five have produced chicks. For eagles, about 50% of eggs hatch, Steers said. In separate years, two chicks died in bad weather when they were "too big to get under the mother and not yet waterproof," she said.

"It’s nature," she added. "Sometimes it’s hard to watch, but we have to let it be what it is."

She also counseled patience and calm for those eagle fans excitedly keeping pip watch.

"I can't wait till the pipping begins," wrote one fan on the group's Facebook page, with three chick emojis.

"Even when there's a pip, it's going to take at least a day — sometimes longer — for the chick to hatch," Steers said. "With nature, we need to be patient. It can teach us to just breathe and enjoy the process instead of focusing on the result."

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.