Friday, June 15, 2012

Why Bald Eagles Are Amazing!
The Bald Eagle!  Proud symbol of America!  A regal and beautiful beast, with a bit of a temper and a lot of power to back it up!  Now that we're down to just two Bald Eagles at the RMRP, this entry isn't as timely as I had hoped it would be (not that I'm complaining: two Bald Eagles is much better than five).  But here we go anyways, an article dedicated to the awesome Eagle.
Identifying a Bald Eagle is usually a pretty easy task.  First of all, they're enormous, making most other American birds look positively diminutive.  Also, they're strikingly colored: the solid white head and tail contrast starkly with a dark brown body, a color combination that's easy to pick out whether they're perching on a tree or soaring hundreds of feet overhead.  Finally, they have a giant yellow schnoz that stands out like a beacon.
Despite all those obvious markings, there are times when Bald Eagles are not quite so easy to identify...mostly when they're young and look just like Golden Eagles.  An immature (age 0-5 years) Bald Eagle doesn't have the white head and tail, or the solid brown body, and they end up looking almost identical to immature Golden Eagles, which is why both are protected under Federal law.

Bald Eagles live all across the US, but are mostly found in areas with water (salt water or fresh).  While they don't need to eat fish exclusively, they are darn good at catching fish and it makes up a large portion of their diet.  Unlike Osprey, which submerge themselves completely when they dive for fish, Bald Eagle reach in with their feet and pluck fish out of the water.  Also found on the menu are prairie dogs, large animal carcasses, and aquatic birds like geese and ducks.
Bald Eagles reach sexual maturity between ages four and five, and then they mate for life...unless the worst should happen.  Then they will find a new mate and start over.  Courtship displays are something to behold: the eagles lock talons and spiral down towards the earth in a death-defying show. Here are two video clips of the action.
The first is pretty old, but impressive: 

And this one is newer, but further away:

Bald Eagles, along with Peregrine Falcons, really hit the spotlight in the 1940's and 1950's when DDT was wreaking havoc on the population.  In the mid-1950's, there were only ~400 pairs in the lower 48.  Since then, a combination of banning DDT and enacting laws to protect eagles has brought their population back up to normal.  In 2007 they were delisted entirely, and are considered a Species of Least Concern!

In terms of personality, Bald Eagles are timid, easily stressed, high-maintenance and unpredictable.  Only a few Humans at the RMRP are qualified to work with these birds, which is why is was soooo difficult to manage FIVE Bald Eagles all at once.

Okay, now that you know what Bald Eagles are, let's clear up some myths about what Eagles are not.  

First of all, they're not the biggest bird in the US. The Golden Eagle and the Bald Eagle overlap a lot, with both of them checking in at 9-14 lbs (some Bald Eagles can weigh a mere 5 lbs), and with wingspans of 6-8 ft. The California Condor blows them both out of the water with an average weight of 18-20 lbs, and a typical wingspan of 8-10 ft.  And for the record, some Trumpeter Swans are even bigger than that.
California Condor (

Second, they're not just the mighty hunter people believe they are.  Bald Eagles are notorious scavengers of carcasses and dumps, and not just scavengers but thieves!  Bald Eagles exhibit a behavior known as kleptoparasitism, or, in plain English, they steal food that other animals have caught.  For instance, if an Osprey dives into the water and comes out with a large, delicious fish, a Bald Eagle will come along and try to bully it away from the Osprey--and being bigger and badder, the Eagle will usually succeed.  The beautiful picture below shows an Eagle trying to steal a fish from a Great Blue Heron.  They also steal from each other, especially adults from juveniles.

And third, you know that regal screeching sound you hear in the movies whenever a Bald Eagle (or any other bird for that matter) comes into view?  That's not what Bald Eagles sound like.  That's a Red-Tailed Hawk.  Bald Eagles sound like this:
No wonder Humans use a Red-Tailed Hawk screech in the movies! 

That's all I've got on Bald Eagles!  I hope you learned something new, and if you have any questions feel free to leave a comment below or send me an email at 

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