The Bald Eagle
The Bald Eagle has been the national bird of U.S. since 1782, symbolizing freedom, power, and majesty. The term bald refers not to the white head but to the piebald adult plumage.
The bald eagle has been the national bird of the U.S. since 1782, symbolizing freedom, power, and majesty. A commanding presence in North American skies, the bald eagle patrols waterways and coasts, looking gor the opportunity to swoop and snatch unwary fish and waterbirds.
The eagle's ability to see detail at a distance is extraordinary. Its eyesight is 4-8 times sharper than a human's. The eyes are fixed in their sockets, so the eagle has to turn its whole head to look around. As with all sea eagles, the bill is large, heavily built, and strongly hooked. It's capable of tearing flesh from tough carrion into small, bite-sized pieces. The soles of its toes are covered by special scales with spiny projections, called spicules. Together with the sharp talons, these help grip slippery fish.
The bald eagle is found in a range of habitats from the Arctic coasts to inland freshwater lakes and rivers. The bald eagle can often be seen sitting near the top of a tall tree at the water's edge, which provides a good look out while waiting for fish or other prey. Inland nesting eagles migrate southward in winter and some of these migrant birds spend the non-breeding season in arid, open country far from water.
From a prominent perch that overlooks water, the bald eagle scans the surface for fish. Once prey is located, the eagle flies out toward it, dropping down in a shallow glide. At the last moment, it throws its feet down and forward to grab the fish just beneath the water. Hooking the fish into the air, the eagle carries it to a perch.
Depending on the locality, the eagle chooses from a variety of sites for its nest: a tree, on the ground, or on a cliff. The eggs, normally two, are laid several days apart. Incubation begins when the first egg is laid, and the chicks hatch at different times. The first chick is fed by the parents for several days before its sibling hatches and has a significant size and weight advantage over its sibling. Should the parents be unable to bring sufficient food for both chicks, the older chick bullies the younger and weaker one until it dies of starvation. This behavior ensures that in years when food is scarce, at least the older chick can be raised successfully.
Persecution and pesticides have taken a toll on the bald eagle. However, due to recent actions to save the bald eagle, the outlook is much brighter for this stately bird.