The Bald Eagle has inspired feelings of majesty and strength long before it became the symbol of the United States. This bird looks strong and powerful and awe inspiring when in flight or sitting on a perch. The way that the Bald Eagle looks makes it easy to see how it was chosen as the national emblem of the United States, though long before the birth of this nation, it was a strong spiritual symbol for the Native Americans.
The Bald Eagle is one of the most identifiable birds in North America. It is a large-bodied bird of prey (raptor) with a long hooked bill and a large head. Adults have a distinct white head and tail, bright yellow bill and feet, and unlike many of us have come to believe, they have a dark brown body. Young eagles are brown with varying degrees of white mottling throughout their bodies. Young eagles look similar to the Golden Eagle, but the juvenile bald eagles tend to be smaller and have a more distinct head. As they age more white is present and full adult plumage is seen in about five years.
Bald Eagles can be found in much of the US, and in some areas can be see year round. They choose sites that are near water and will nest and perch in trees that have a commanding view of the surroundings. Their nests are located near the top of a tree that rises above the canopy. They build nests near the trunk of the tree which can be very large. They average about six feet in diameter and two to four feet deep. They will also nest on the ground or on cliffs in areas that do not have trees.
Though the main food source is fish, Bald Eagles also eat a wide variety of other foods depending on availability. They will eat food that they have caught, fresh kills, and carrion. They will catch and eat other birds, small mammals, large invertebrates (like crabs), and reptiles and amphibians. Bald Eagles are notorious for stealing food from other animals. They use their size to scare off other predators, or will steal it right out from under them. There have been documented cases of Bald Eagles taking a fish from Ospreys while in flight.
Despite its size and apparent ferocity, the Bald Eagle has a "weak" call. It is a series of high pitched chirps, whistles, and piping notes. I think they sound similar to some seagull species.
Fun Facts about Bald Eagles:
- Ben Franklin was opposed to the Bald Eagle as the national symbol. He cited the apparent "poor moral character" and its apparent weakness, as it can be chased out of an area by some of the smaller birds that share its environment. His vote was cast for the Wild Turkey.
- Bald Eagles can create some huge nests. An eagle pair may come back to the same nest site year after year adding to the nest each year. One of the largest nests on record weighed almost two metric tons.
- Young Bald Eagles are widely traveled. They spend the first few years traveling and can travel hundreds of miles in a day. Young eagles that were hatched in Florida have been seen in Michigan, and birds from California have made it all the way to Alaska.