Birds: Bald Eagle

The bald eagle, with its snowy-feathered (not bald) head and white tail, is the proud national bird symbol of the United States—yet the bird was nearly wiped out there. For many decades, bald eagles were hunted for sport and for the “protection” of fishing grounds, as well as getting heavily affected by pesticides.

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Adult Bald Eagle

The bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) is a bird of prey found in North America. Its range includes most of Canada and Alaska, all of the contiguous United States, and northern Mexico. It is found near large bodies of open water with an abundant food supply and old-growth trees for nesting.

The bald eagle is an opportunistic feeder which subsists mainly on fish, which it swoops down and snatches from the water with its talons. It builds the largest nest of any North American bird and the largest tree nests ever recorded for any animal species, up to 4 m (13 ft) deep and 2.5 m (8.2 ft) wide. Sexual maturity is attained at the age of four to five years.

Baytown Bald Eagles Fall 2010
Bald Eagles mating.

Bald eagles are not actually bald; the name derives from an older meaning of “white headed”. The adult is mainly brown with a white head and tail. The sexes are identical in plumage, but females are about 25 percent larger than males. The beak is large and hooked. The plumage of the immature is brown.

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1 Year-old Bald Eagle

The bald eagle is both the national bird and national animal of the United States of America. The bald eagle appears on its seal. In the late 20th century it was on the brink of extirpation in the contiguous United States. Populations have since recovered and the species was removed from the U.S. government’s list of endangered species on July 12, 1995 and transferred to the list of threatened species. It was removed from the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife in the Lower 48 States on June 28, 2007.

The bald eagle is a powerful flier, and soars on thermal convection currents. It reaches speeds of 56–70 km/h (35–43 mph) when gliding and flapping, and about 48 km/h (30 mph) while carrying fish. Its dive speed is between 120–160 km/h (75–99 mph), though it seldom dives vertically.

The bald eagle is not picky about how it gets its food. It will eat carrion, steal fish from other birds or hunt for its own. Their most important non-carrion food is fish, which they catch by swooping down and grabbing fish that are near the surface of the lake or stream.

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Bald Eagle carrying a salmon.

The bald eagle is a sacred bird in some North American cultures, and its feathers, like those of the golden eagle, are central to many religious and spiritual customs among Native Americans. Eagles are considered spiritual messengers between gods and humans by some cultures. Many pow wow dancers use the eagle claw as part of their regalia as well. Eagle feathers are often used in traditional ceremonies, particularly in the construction of regalia worn and as a part of fans, bustles and head dresses. In the Navajo Tradition an Eagle feather is represented to be a Protector, along with the Feather Navajo Medicine Man use the leg and wing bones for ceremonial whistles. The Lakota, for instance, give an eagle feather as a symbol of honor to person who achieves a task.

Sources:

http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/birds/bald-eagle/

http://www.baldeagleinfo.com/

http://www.defenders.org/bald-eagle/basic-facts

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bald_eagle

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