The Bald Eagle is the only species of North American sea eagle. With a wingspan of 6.5-8 ft, and a length of 31-37 in; the Bald eagle is unmistakable! The Adults have that famous white head and tail, set off by the rich dark brown body plumage, and bright yellow bill and feet. Only the immature individuals rather drab plumage could lead one to confuse this species with immature specimens of the Golden eagle. It takes 4-5 years for the immature birds to fully acquire the adult coloration.
Being sea eagles, Bald eagles are found primarily around bodies of water. During migration, this species is occassionally seen along mountain ridges, and over large bare areas of water containing large numbers of waterfowl, and/or dying fish; provided suitable roosting sites can be found. Although the Bald eagle was formerly found across North America, wherever large bodies of water were present, they are now limited to breeding colonies found mainly in Alaska, with only small populations in parts of Canada, the northern Great Lakes states, Florida, and the Pacific Northwest.
Bald Eagles feed primarily upon fish, some of which they themselves catch. However, they are famous for feeding on carrion, and for practicing ‘raptor’ piracy on the Osprey. These are all reasons why when the United states was choosing it’s national bird, the president holding office at the time didn't want this species to represent the good ol’ U.S. of A.! Bald Eagles also take a variety of live prey species, such as waterfowl, small mammals like rabbits, and even reptiles such as turtles. Claims that this species causes damage to domestic lamb and salmon farming efforts are greatly exaggerated.
Bald Eagles are famous for nesting on the edges of rivers, lakes, or sea shores, and are equally famous for building huge prominent stick nests. Some are continually added to over many seasons, with some even weighing over a ton! These nests are up to 6 feet in diameter and over 6 feet tall. The commanding position of these nests is usually the top of the largest tree near a river, lake, or even a rocky outcrop if suitable trees are unavailable. The nest is made of deadwood that often snapped off the trees in mid flight! It is lined with a soft material of some sort, pine needles being a common choice. Fresh green twigs are brought to the nest throughout the breeding season.
This species lays from 1-4 eggs. With Both the male and the female sharing incubation duties, the young hatch after approximately 35 days. The eggs that are remarkably similar in size to those of a domestic goose. There is very little sibling rivalry displayed with this species, provided food is plentiful, so that often the entire brood reaches fledging age. The young grow quickly, being of fledging age at approximately 10 to 12 weeks. By this age, the immature plumage is complete and at a distance makes the young individuals appear remarkably similar in appearance to immature Golden eagles.
At the Centre we were breeding a pair of Bald Eagles that were injured in the wild. One has since passed away. The male had a badly damaged wing, and the female had neurological damage. They were immature when they came to us in 1993, after having been rehabilitated at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Saskatchewan.
As they began to mature, it was obvious that the male's wing was never going to heal properly, and in 1998 it was necessary to have his left wing amputated. Although this was traumatic at the time, it turned into a blessing in disguise. It greatly relieved his discomfort, improved his mobility on the ground, and he was able to concentrate on courting the female. This is a wise use of a pair of birds that would have otherwise been put down if we had not applied for them, and volunteered our care.
Unfortunately , as a direct result of past persecution, the effects of pollution such as the now banned pesticide DDT, as well as human disturbance during the reproductive season, the Bald Eagle was listed as an Endangered Species or as Appendix I by CITES (the convention on the international trade in endangered species of wild fauna and flora), as well as by the local authorities throughout most of the U.S., with the exception of the state of Alaska where it is not listed, and Minnesota, Wisconsin, Washington, Oregon and Florida where it was only considered to be threatened. However in 1995 the Bald Eagle's status was updated to "threatened" for the entire United States.
If you have found an injured bird of prey (hawk, falcon, owl, etc.), contact the Centre and our experienced staff can assist in determining what steps should be taken to ensure the bird receives the best possible care.
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