American Bald Eagle
Genus: Haliaeetus
Species: leucocephalus

The Bald Eagle is a large fierce looking bird. It's name in Latin means "the sea eagle with a white head". It is the national symbol of the United States of America. Benjamin Franklin had suggested that the national symbol be the Wild Turkey, because the Bald Eagle was "a bird of bad moral character", but he was outvoted. Today it is seen on many things in the United States, such as money, seals, and other patriotic symbols.

The Bald Eagle generally lives forty-five to fifty years in captivity and twenty-five years in the wild. It is one of the largest flying birds seen in the United States. It stands between 30.4 and 36.4 inches tall, or about as high as an average office desk. It has a five and a half to eight foot wing span. That's about as long as a big dining room table. The head of the bird is white, the body of the bird is black, and the tail is

white. The feet are a dull orange and its beak is yellow.

Like many raptors it has an unusual trait that is called "reversed sexual dimorphism". This means that the female Bald Eagle is generally bigger than the male. In most species, the male is larger than the female.

This raptor is covered in large coarse feathers. The name "Bald Eagle" doesn't mean the bird is really bald. From a distance, it appears bald because of the contrast of the light and dark feathers. To the early settlers in the United States, the word bald meant white, not hairless. Because of its appearance, its name came to be the Bald Eagle. It doesn't get its amazing colors until four to five years of age. Before that, the immature Bald Eagle appears to have a brown head and tail with a yellow beak. The Bald Eagle has a body that is midway between sleek and bulky.

What is fascinating about the bald eagle to me is that the Bald Eagle's wing span can reach eight feet. I find this fascinating because that is taller than most people.

The Bald Eagle reaches maturity between four and six years of age. It chooses one mate for its whole life. The climate it lives in affects its reproduction. The Bald Eagle tends to breed during the winter in the south, and during the spring in the north. It raises its family in large nests that are usually built near water. It may nest by itself or in an area where many other Bald Eagles live also. This bird of prey usually nests in tall live pine trees that are higher than the things that surround them. Occasionally the Bald Eagle may build its nest on the ground if there is nothing nearby to endanger them. The female eagle usually builds most of the nests. They are obsessed with working on their nests. The nests are made of natural materials such as sticks, mud and pieces of grass and can weigh up to one ton. The nests are sometimes larger than six feet in width. There was one eagle nest found in Ohio that was 9 _ feet wide, 20 feet deep, and weighed more than two tons. Unfortunately, the nest was destroyed when the tree it was built in fell to the ground in 1925. Nests are often used year after year. Some nests are built so well that they last for ten to twenty years even though they are unprotected from the weather.

Bald Eagles breed between the months of April and August depending on their location, reproducing every year on average. They usually have a clutch of two eggs. These eggs are laid several days apart so that it is not so hard to feed the eaglets. The parents feed the first eaglet for a couple of days before the next eaglet hatches. Because of this time gap, the older eaglet is bigger and stronger than the next bird to hatch. If there happened to be a food shortage, and the parents did not have enough food for them both, the older eaglet would take all the food and eventually the younger one would die of starvation. This promises that there is at least one healthy eaglet in the nest. Both the male and the female share the responsibility of the incubation of their clutch. Both parents also share the responsibility of nourishing and raising their eaglets. After the baby eaglets hatch, one of their parents is always with them for the first two weeks. After hatching in the nest, the young live with their parents for nine to fourteen weeks. After that time the parents may help them for another four weeks. Bald Eagles will tend to stay in their nesting area year round if there is food available and the weather permits. If this is not possible, they will migrate to an area with a more suitable climate.

The Bald Eagle has five noticeable characteristics that make it very good at the jobs it needs to do in order to survive; these are called special adaptations. The first adaptation of the Bald Eagle is that it can see four to eight times better and further than humans. The second special adaptation is a bony overhang above their eyes. This overhang protects the eyes from the sun and potential injury, and helps while flying and searching for food. It shades the bird's eyes from any glare and enables it to see into the water more easily while searching for fish. The third adaptations are the little bumps on the bottom of their feet called spicules. These protruding bumps, along with razor sharp talons, help the eagle hold fish during flight. The final obvious adaptation of the Bald Eagle is their very curved beak. This is used to help tear fish apart while eating.

The Bald Eagle is a raptor and that means it is a bird of prey. They like to sit on a high perch near water to make it easier to spot their prey. Their diet is made up of mainly fish, but also includes small sea birds, mammals, and reptiles (mostly turtles). When Bald Eagles catch a large animal, they rip pieces off of it and eat it bite by bite. When they catch a small animal they swallow it whole. After they swallow it they make themselves throw up all the bones, feathers, and hair that they cannot digest. Surprisingly enough, in cold winter months, dead animals become part of this predator's diet when there is not enough prey. They often steal food from other raptors, particularly Osprey, while in flight. They grab the prey right out of the other birds talons and fly away with it. Although a great predator from the air, this specific bird has been seen wading into streams in northern states and provinces, to reach a struggling fish when the rapids are running too fast for the bird to see in.

The Bald Eagle is an amazing predator. Because of this, it is an environment helper. It helps the environment by eating a variety fish and other animals. This is good for the environment because it eats from a variety of different animals. Like the Osprey, the Bald Eagle returns each year to its nest. It would be unable to do this if it were to over hunt the prey in its area.

For many years the Bald Eagle was close to extinction. This close call was caused by a chemical that has now been declared illegal by the U.S. government. This chemical is called DDT and got into the eagle's body when they ate contaminated fish. The chemical caused them and many other raptors to come close to extinction. It affected the eggs that they produced. They all had really thin shells that would break during the incubation period. Because of this, there would be few baby eaglets, causing a big decline in the eagle population. There was also a bounty put out on eagles. People thought they were killing farm animals and reducing the amount of fish available for fishermen.

 Other things that have endangered the eagles are a result of our everyday lives. As more stores, buildings, homes and malls are built, eagles and other animals are losing their homes. Trees they live in are cut down and food they eat is poisoned.

As more and more people are listening to conservationists, more of these beautiful animals are being saved from extinction. The Bald Eagle is not an endangered species now, but it is still threatened by poachers. Across the United States, laws have been enacted that make it illegal to kill a Bald Eagle. All of these efforts are helping the Bald Eagle become a more commonly seen sight in the United States, which is especially nice because it is our national symbol.

by Jeffrey S.  2001


 

bibliography:

"Bald Eagle", Wildlife Explorer, USA: Intermational Masters Publishers. 1998

"Bald Eagle, birds of prey, large birds", http://www.enteract.com/~eaglegb/indexpcs/eagles.html (11/7/00).

"Fact Sheet: bald eagle", http://www.seaworld.org/animalbytes/eaglefc.html, (11/7/00)

"bald eagle" http://www.birdsofprey.org/species%20info/baldeagle.htm (1/6/01)

"baea signage" http://www.birdsofprey.org/species%20info/baea_signage.htm (1/6/01)

 

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