When I was a kid, I wanted to fly. I had to restrain myself from jumping off ledges and thinking I could soar into the sky. Strange, but true.
If you want to fly like a bird, the eagle would be a powerful choice. The eagle represents freedom as it lives high, soars majestically, and sits at the top of the food chain.
The royal creature was chosen as the symbol of the United States of America on June 20, 1782 because of its strength, longevity, and that it is native to North America. The scientific name comes from Haliaeetus leucocephalus signifying a sea (halo) eagle (aeetos) with a white (leukos) head. At that time, the word “bald” meant “white” not hairless.
Eagles are members of the Accipitridae family which also includes hawks, kites, and vultures. Scientists loosely divide eagles into four groups based on their physical characteristics and behavior. The bald eagle is considered a sea or fish eagle.
Bald eagles are found throughout most of North America, from Alaska and Canada to northern Mexico, but half of the world’s 70,000 bald eagles live in Alaska. Sexual maturity is attained at four to five years. These great birds range from 28-40 inches in length. Females are about 25% larger than males averaging as much as 13 pounds to the males 9 pounds. Their eyes are similar in size to humans but their eyesight is four times greater than our perfect vision.
It’s no wonder they are so amazing to watch in flight. Eagles are powerful fliers soaring on thermal convection currents at speeds of 35-43 mph when gliding and flapping and about 30 mph while carrying fish. They can dive at speeds between 75-99 mph. And their impressive wingspan is between 6 to 7 and a half feet across.
Both male and female adult bald eagles have a blackish-brown back and breast; a white head, neck, and tail; yellow feet, legs and beak; and pale-yellow eyes. Their call consists of the weak staccato, chirping whistle kleek kik ik ik ik. The calls of young birds tend to be more shrill than those of adults.
We are blessed to have nesting eagles in the little town in which I live along the Fox River in Illinois. Bald eagles usually are sensitive to human activity while nesting. However, the ones in my area don’t seem to mind a fascinated yet respectful audience below snapping photos.
Eagles have the largest nests of any North American bird. Nests can be up to 13 feet deep and more than 8 feet wide. These mammoth nests can weigh as much as a ton so they require a sturdy perch. Coniferous or hardwood trees for perching, roosting, and nesting are typically more than 66 feet tall and offer proximity to prey.
Eagles mate for life, at least the life of one of the pair. Nest building occurs by mid-February. One to three eggs hatch from mid-April to early May and the young leave nests late June to early July. Around 50% of the newly hatched eagles survive the first year.
Eagles are opportunistic feeders devouring dead or decaying fish. Their preferred prey includes grebes, duck, gulls, coots, herons, egrets, and geese up to 4 pounds in weight. Along some areas of the North Pacific coastline, bald eagles are now preying on seabird colonies rather than their traditional kelp. This may be due to overfishing and otters interfering with their food source. Ironically, being at the top of the food chain makes them more vulnerable to consuming toxic chemicals in the environment.
Eagles maintain a respected role in the Native American culture. Pow wow dancers use the eagle claws and feathers as part of their ceremonial dress. In the Navajo tradition, eagle feathers represent the protector. Navajo medicine men use the leg and wing bones for ceremonial whistles. The Lakota people present eagle feathers as honorary symbols to those who achieve a notable task. The Pawnee consider eagles as symbols of fertility because their nests are built high, and they fiercely protect their young. The Choctaw relate the bald eagle with the sun and a symbol of peace.
The average lifespan of bald eagles in the wild is around 20 years, with the oldest confirmed one having lived 38 years. Premature death often results from impact with wires and vehicles, gunshot, poisoning, electrocution, trapping, emaciation, and disease.
The Department of Interior removed the bald eagle from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened, but eagles are still protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.
“Choosing a Memory Care Home Site-Unseen” and “Perfect Opportunity to Ponder” are two of my most recent posts on my other blog, Mary K Doyle Books. And watch on my Author FaceBook page for upcoming virtual presentations.
All photos on my site were taken by me, Mary K. Doyle, unless otherwise noted.