Bird of the Week: Bald Eagle

 

The majestic Bald Eagle is the only eagle unique to North America—the Golden Eagle occurs across the entire Northern Hemisphere—and is well-known, even to non-birders, as the national symbol of the United States.

 

The Bald Eagle’s Latin name accurately reflects its appearance and habits: hali and aiētos mean "sea eagle," and leuco and cephalos mean "white head." Its distinctive white head and tail make it easy to identify, even from a distance. Immature Bald Eagles do not develop the characteristic white head and tail until they are between four and five years old.

 

 

Bald Eagles make a very un-regal, high-pitched squeaking sound. In TV shows and movies, the loud, low scream of the Red-tailed Hawk is often dubbed over the image of an eagle on-screen.

 

The species is a conservation success story. By the late 1900s, Bald Eagles had become increasingly rare—victims of trapping, shooting, and poisoning, plus nesting failure caused by DDT and other pesticides. By 1978, the species was listed under the Endangered Species Act. Populations rebounded after the more toxic pesticides were banned, and the bird was removed from the Endangered Species list in 2007.

 

However, Bald Eagles continue to face threats from increasing numbers of wind turbines, lead poisoning, and coastal development. Recently, ABC filed suit against the Department of the Interior in connection with a rule that allows wind energy companies and others to obtain 30-year permits to kill eagles without prosecution by the federal government.

 

A distinctive courtship/territorial behavior of the Bald Eagle is the "talon clasping" or "cartwheel display," where two eagles grab each other's talons high in the air and fall downward spinning, releasing only when they have almost hit the ground.

 

During breeding season, the male and female eagle work together to build a platform nest of sticks high in a large tree; the nest is added to each year, sometimes reaching such an enormous size that it takes down the tree itself.