Nothing generates more excitement at the hawk watch than spotting a passing bald eagle. There is a mystique about the bald eagle that’s a result it being our national symbol coupled with the knowledge that it very nearly vanished in the United States during the 20th century. The bald eagle numbers are up again and when you see this large bird soaring on the winds, well, few things can compare.
Even though it is a scavenger, the Bald Eagle seems to demand respect. I almost feel patriotic when I learn more about the Bald Eagle, as if it is my civic duty. Here is some of the information that I have gathered. As you begin reading, I’ll cue the fife and drums.
- The Bald Eagle builds the largest nest of any North American bird, up to 13 ft deep, 8.2 ft wide, and one ton in weight
- It is estimated that in the early 18th century, the Bald Eagle population was 300,000–500,000, but by the 1950s there were only 412 nesting pairs in the 48 contiguous states of the US. Populations recovered and stabilized, so the species was removed from the U.S. federal government’s list of endangered species and transferred to the list of threatened species on July 12, 1995, and it was removed from the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife in the Lower 48 States on June 28, 2007
- The highly developed talon of the Bald Eagle’s hind toe is used to pierce the vital areas of prey while it is held immobile by the front toes
- The plumage of the immature Bald Eagle is brown, speckled with white until the fifth (rarely fourth, very rarely third) year, when it reaches sexual maturity
- The call of the Bald Eagle consists of weak chirping whistles, harsher and more shrill from young birds than adults. The movie and television industries will often substitute the call of a Red-Tailed Hawk when showing an eagle in flight.
- The Bald Eagle reaches speeds of 35–43 mph when gliding and flapping, and about 30 mph while carrying fish. Its dive speed is between 75–99 mph, though it seldom dives vertically
- The Bald Eagle is partially migratory, depending on location. If its territory has access to open water, it remains there year-round, but if the body of water freezes during the winter, making it impossible to obtain food, it migrates to the south or to the coast
- Bald Eagles have powerful talons and have been recorded flying with a 15-pound Mule Deer fawn
- It has been estimated that the gripping power (pounds by square inch) of the Bald Eagle is ten times greater than that of a human.
- Bald Eagles can fly with fish at least equal to their own weight, but if the fish is too heavy to lift, the eagle may be dragged into the water. It may swim to safety, but some eagles drown or succumb to hypothermia
- Bald Eagle courtship involves elaborate calls and flight displays. The flight includes swoops, chases, and cartwheels, in which they fly high, lock talons, and free fall, separating just before hitting the ground
- The average lifespan of a Bald Eagle in the wild is around 20 years, with the oldest living to be about 30
- Adult eagles bring in a lot of fish for the 3 months their young are in the nest, and that can be quite an attraction to flies and other insects. Occasionally, insect loads are so bad in a nest, that a chick or two may die, due to stress and simply being bitten to death.
The chart below shows the numbers of Bald Eagles that have been counted at the Picatinny Peak, Raccoon Ridge, Scott’s Mountain, Sunrise Mountain, and Wildcat Ridge hawk watches in Northwest New Jersey.