Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Nature Guide: Bald Eagle

As I've said in a previous post, we are fortunate to have Bald Eagles among the beautiful birds to see here at Princeton Landing. With Lake Carnegie nearby and many tall trees, our area is an excellent habitat for Bald Eagles. I saw one just recently flying low over Parcel 6. Its wide wingspan and white head were truly a majestic sight. Our Nature Guide Jon Latimer gives us some information about our national emblem, the Bald Eagle.

"The first thing you are likely to notice when you see a Bald Eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus, is how large it is. They simply have a greater presence than any other local bird. The blackish-brown body and white head and tail of adult Bald Eagles are unmistakable, but it takes juveniles four or five years to reach adult plumage.

"Immature eagles have dark brown heads and bodies with white mottling on their wings and tail. The feet and lower legs of both adults and juveniles are yellow. When flying, Bald Eagles pump their long, broad wings. When they soar, they hold their wings flat. Turkey Vultures, our other large, dark soaring bird, hold their wings in a slight V-shape.

"It is estimated that there are only around 70,000 Bald Eagles in the world. About half of them live in Alaska. British Columbia has a large population, as does Florida. The remainder may be found in many parts of North America, including New Jersey—there is a pair nesting very close by near Lake Carnegie.

"Bald Eagles usually build their large nest in a tall tree near a body of water. The nest is made of sticks and lined with finer woody materials. Bald Eagles mate for life and they often reuse the same nest over many years, adding new material each breeding season.

"The female lays from one to three eggs and it takes about 35 days before the young hatch. After another 10 weeks the young are ready to leave the nest. Both males and females share parenting duties.

"Bald Eagles hunt fish but will also eat large birds, mammals and carrion. They obtain their food by direct capture and scavenging, but they are not above stealing prey from other birds and mammals.

"The Bald Eagle became our national emblem in 1782 when the Great Seal of the United States was adopted. But over the years hunting and the use of pesticides drastically reduced the number of Bald Eagles in the lower 48 states. In 1967 they were officially declared an endangered species. Under this protection, Bald Eagles gradually recovered. In 1995 their status was upgraded to "threatened." Finally, in 2007, the Bald Eagle was taken off the Endangered Species List. It is still illegal to collect eagles' nests or eggs without a permit, although federal law allows Native Americans to possess these emblems which are traditional in their culture."

Photos (click for a larger image): Ken Thomas; Steve Hillebrand, USFWS; Ken Thomas; Mike Jacobson, USFWS; Dave Menke, USFWS; Dave Menke, USFWS; Ken Thomas