Did you know that the United States adopted the bald eagle as the national bird and symbol of the nation in 1782? European settlers in America used to the sight of the Sea Eagle in Europe, named the bald eagle, believing the two birds were the same. There were no bald eagles in Europe, as the bald eagle is found only in North America. The scientific name of the bald eagle is Haliaetus leucocephalus, which actually translates from Latin and Greek into ‘sea eagle with a white head.’ We still call them sea eagles to this day.
The bald eagle is the only ‘sea eagle’ that is a native of North America. There is no mistaking the bald eagle, with its deep brown feathers and contrasting white head and tail. Coins, flags, buildings, and seals in the United States have used the image of the bald eagle to symbolize the country.
These birds of prey are raptors, along with owls, hawks, vultures, and falcons. The bald eagle eats mainly waterfowl, such as geese and ducks, and fish, but also may indulge in small birds, rodents, snakes, rabbits, and even carrion when live prey is not available
Bald eagles are enormous and intimidating birds, with adults growing to 32 inches in length, with wingspans to 7 feet, and weighing up to 16 pounds.
Alaska is home to the larger eagles, while the smaller ones make their homes in Florida. Wherever they are, when animals see the bald eagle descending, they know to scatter.
An area 2 to 15 miles square is the area needed for a pair of bald eagles to hunt in. Each pair of bald eagles shares a nest, furiously guarding it against predators. Bald eagles living along the Indian River lagoon located on the Central Florida coast have been known to go after Ospreys who have themselves caught a meal. The Osprey usually drops its hard-won catch in order to escape the powerful eagle, and the eagle, not at all fussy about its meals, will then eat it.
Although they are birds of prey, the bald eagle shows a tremendous instinct for family loyalty. This species chooses its mate for life, unlike most birds. The bald eagle in the wild can live to be 25 years old, though most birds do not live to be this age. They live across North America, from the north, including Canada and Alaska, across the middle expanses of the U.S., and south into the northern part of Mexico.
The bald eagle travels frequently, flying to northern climates to escape hot summers, the birds usually return close to the place where they were hatched in order to begin families of their own. Breeding bald eagles lay one to three eggs in the spring, which hatch about 35 days later. The baby eagles live in the nest during the first three months, and then learn to fly for a month before leaving and beginning their own lives. The bald eagle, despite the dangers of disease, hunger, bad weather, and toxic chemicals, still adapt to their environments and live into their second year 70% of the time.
Did you know that the U.S. Congress tried to help the species by passing the Bald Eagle Protection Act in 1940? The law prohibits anyone from disturbing or bothering bald eagles. The law also prohibited taking the animals, their eggs, or their nests, for any reason unless they have a permit. Take includes not just capturing or trapping the bald eagle, but also bothering them, shooting at them, and wounding or killing them.
The overuse of pesticides commercially and residentially, as well as the use of DDT and other harmful chemicals, led to the steep decline of bald eagles. Reintroduction programs, some federally funded and some private, as well as new laws, have given the bald eagle a chance to return in numbers. It seemed nearly impossible to save the species from extinction at the time.
For species with small populations, and those with very few animals left, the Endangered Species Act of 1973 allowed the legal classifications of endangered or threatened. The dramatic return of the bald eagle population removed it from most endangered species lists in the early 1990s.
The dramatic increase in the number of bald eagles, up from almost 500 pairs in 1963, to about 5,000 pairs in 1994, encouraged Congress to upgrade the species to threatened on August 11, 1995. As the number of bald eagles increases, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has plans to remove the bird from the endangered species list altogether.
The bald eagle is a pleasure to watch. The bald eagle takes off with strides that are powerful and purposeful. The eagle soars as if in slow motion. The eagle stays fixed on its path, the prize kept firmly in sight. The number of majestic bald eagles is steadily increasing all over North America. Take any opportunity to see these magnificent animals.
Related posts: The Bald Eagle – Bird Watching America’s National Bird