American Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)

Click the speaker to hear the Eagle!

WHAT DOES AN EAGLE LOOK LIKE?  This large raptor (bird of prey) has a white head and tail.  Its body is black or dark brown.  Its feet and eyes are bright yellow.  Eagles can soar a long time without flapping their wings.  The Bald Eagle is our largest raptor and can weigh up to 15 1/2 pounds.   Its wings stretch 6 to 7 1/2 feet when open wide.

WHAT DO THEY EAT?  Eagles prefer fish, water birds, and small mammals, but will eat dead animals and garbage.  They hunt with their strong talons (claws), but it’s less work for them to scavenge or steal their food.  Eagles will fly at ospreys (fish hawks) to make them drop their captured fish.  The eagle then catches the stolen fish and flies away to eat it.   In 1782 Ben Franklin said that because eagles are thieves, turkeys should be our national bird instead.

To see an Eagle catch dinner, click on the fish!

WHAT ABOUT BABY EAGLES?  Eagle parents stay together their whole lives.  Both parents work hard to care for their babies.  They usually build their nests in a large living pine tree and use the same nest year after year.  (One eagle’s nest in Florida was 9 1/2 feet wide and 20 feet tall!)  The mother lays 1 to 3 dull white eggs that are a little bigger than an “extra-large” chicken egg.  Both the mother and father take turns sitting on the eggs for 35 days.  In the nest, baby eagles play games of tug-of-war, you chase me-I chase you, and broad jump from one side of the nest to the other.  Baby eagles grow very fast; they start learning to fly when they are only 2 months old!  This can be a very dangerous time for an eaglet, and many will end up on the ground.  The parents will usually take care of a grounded eaglet, until it can fly.  Most eaglets are ready to leave the nest and hunt alone when they are 4-6 months old.  These young eagles (teenagers) are all brownish black.  Their white head and tail feathers don’t show up until they are 3 to 5 years old (adults).

WHY AREN’T THERE MANY EAGLES? When people used the pesticide DDT, it washed into the water.   Eagles ate DDT when they ate fish.  DDT makes eagle egg shells really thin, so they crack when the mother eagle sits on them.  Using DDT was made illegal in the 1970’s, and many more baby eagles are surviving now.  Eagles are no longer an endangered species.  But they are still THREATENED and are protected by the government.   The eagles’ biggest problem right now is loss of habitat (places to hunt and build nests).  Their habitat is disappearing because people cut down trees and fill in ponds to build houses.  By cleaning up polluted rivers, protecting nesting areas, and making it illegal to hunt eagles or have their feathers, people have really helped the eagle to survive. 

RESOURCES:

 Stalmaster, Mark V. The Bald Eagle. New York: University Books, 1987.
Terres, John K. The Audubon Soc. Encyclopedia of N. Am. Birds. New York: Alfred Knopf, Inc., 1987.

Provided by the Pelotes Island Nature Preserve
http://pelotes.jea.com

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