The Bald Eagle is native to North America only. This magnificent bird is not really bald. In fact it has a distinctive, snowy white, feathered head. The Bald Eagle is a strikingly good looking bird. It soars majestically at great heights in 1782 was adopted as the National Symbol of the United States.
The Bald Eagle is also called the white headed sea eagle. Its preferred habitat is around water bodies and contrary to what the name suggests fresh water bodies are included. The Bald Eagle is found all over the United States and Mexico with the largest populations occupying Alaska and Canada.
The Bald Eagle is easily identifiable from a great distance with its brown body, white head and white tail. The hooked beak is yellow as are the legs and feet. Newly hatched eaglets are grey in colour and soon turn dark brown. They attain the white crown and tail when they are about four or five years old.
The Bald Eagle in the wild lives for about 28 years, but in captivity they may live for almost half a century. This enormous bird is second in size only to the Californian Condor and is about as large as the Golden Eagle. The body length ranges between 86 and 109 cm and they have a wing span of 1.8 to 2.4 m (between 6 and 8 feet).The female is slightly larger than the male and has a longer wing span. Bald Eagles weigh between 3 and 6.5 kg.
The Bald Eagle is a well- equipped predator. The frontal setting of the eyes makes for excellent binocular and peripheral vision. They are excellent fliers. They can climb up to 3000 m, using thermal convection currents, and they can swoop down on their prey at the impressive speed of 160km/hr. They soar rather than fly, with minimal flapping, and wings held almost completely flat, making them a treat to watch.
Bald Eagles live near water bodies and their favourite food is fish. They also prey on smaller birds, ducks, musk rats and turtles. They enjoy carrion and can be seen at road kills or dams where fish are churned in the turbines. They are notorious for their thievery. They harass the more skilful osprey until they drop their hard earned prey, which the Bald Eagle eagerly snaps up. This habit of theirs led Benjamin Franklin to oppose the nomination of the Bald Eagle as the national symbol of USA.
Bald Eagles mostly mate for life. Mating takes place from late September to early April, depending on the region. The female lays the first egg between 5 and 10 days after mating. Both partners build the massive nest. The nests made of sticks are built on the tops of trees r on a cliff. They are lined with twigs grass and other soft material. The nests called eyries can weigh a ton (900 kg) and stretch eight feet across. The largest known eyrie was a phenomenal 3m across and 6m high. It weighed more than 2 tons. Some pairs keep using the same nests and others rebuild every year. The incubation lasts for 35 days and is shared by both partners. The eaglets fledge after 12 weeks and stay with their parents for another month. A female lays between 1 and 3 eggs but more often than not, only one eaglet survives.
In the 1700’s about 500 thousand Bald Eagles soared over the skies of North America. Unfortunately, despite its status as national symbol, the bird was mercilessly hunted for sport and to preserve fishing zones. By the early 20th century only 500 nesting pairs remained. The accumulation of DDT in the Bald Eagles favourite food – fish â€“ caused the bird’s eggshells to become very fragile and hampered the reproductive ability of the birds. They were declared endangered and a massive re introduction program was initiated. This is one of the world’s wildlife success stories. Thanks to the program and the restrictions imposed on the use of DDT, the population has soared to five thousand pairs in the lower 48 states of USA and in northern Mexico. In Alaska and Canada they have thrived and approximately 70,000 birds can now be found there. They are now a threatened but not endangered species.