Scientifically known as haliaeetus leucocephalus, bald eagle is the national bird of USA. This American eagle has a white head with dark wings and a dark brown body. They are found all over North America. Most of their population is found in Alaska. The largest among these birds hail from Alaska, and the smaller ones are usually from Florida. The size of the females is 35-37 inches, and they are slightly larger than the males. They can survive for up to thirty years.
These are raptorial birds that prey on fish, ducks, geese, and other dead and decaying birds. If they do not get live prey, they feed on carrions. They also feed on snakes, rabbits, and rodents. They favor large, open water bodies like seas, lakes, and rivers where there are plenty of fish. Whenever they spot a fish floating on the surface of water, they snatch their prey with the help of their sharp talons.
They hold their prey with one talon, and tear the flesh with their beaks. They can eat approximately one pound of fish within five minutes. It is not necessary that they eat on a daily basis, but whenever they feel hungry, they start hunting for survival. They have an extension of their esophagus called crop, that acts as a storehouse of food for future use. Here are some interesting facts about this eagle species.
- Although these eagles are commonly called American eagles, they are also known by various other names such as 'fishing eagles' and 'white-headed eagles'.
- They are not bald as their name suggests, but their body is actually covered with a dark-brown plumage, giving their white head a shaved look.
- The heaviest nest ever recorded of this bird, was of two tons. They build their nests near tree tops, which are made up of grass, twigs, and soft moss.
- They have excellent eyesight. It is almost five times sharper than that of humans.
- These birds can fly at a speed of 30 miles per hour, and their diving speed is 100 miles per hour.
- They can grow up to a height of 3 feet, and their weight varies from 8-15 pounds.
- They have around 7000 feathers, which are very strong, lightweight, and these feathers protect them against heat and cold by trapping air.
- These birds have special openings at the side of the beaks called nares, which help them to respire.
- They lack vocal cords. The screeching sound is caused due to the flow of air into their neck bones.
- These eagles love to hunt in pairs.
- They start their mating life at the age of four, and remain loyal to their partners throughout their life. They search for a second partner only if the first one dies.
- Spring is the breeding season for this species. They lay about 1 to 3 eggs at a time. The incubation period for the eggs is 35 days.
- The distance between their left and right wingtip is about 5.5 to 7.5 feet, when the wings are fully open.
- They are very good swimmers. The overhand movement of the wings while swimming seems like a butterfly stroke.
Factors Responsible for a Decline in their Population
During the mid twentieth century, there was an alarming rate of decline in the number of these birds. The factors that contributed to their decline were, lack of suitable habitat, illegal shooting, and use of DDT pesticides. Ingestion of DDT reduced the calcium metabolism in their body, which thereby affected the sterility rate. As a result, they were unable to produce healthy eggs.
Due to these factors, these birds were included in the list of endangered species in 1967, by the U.S. government. However, in 1972 United States prohibited the use of DDT. This led to the revival of their population in the United States and Canada. In 1995, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service decided to remove their name from the list of endangered species.
Bald eagles are magnificent birds of America. Ever since the use of DDT has been prohibited, the population of these birds has stabilized. So, do your bit for the environment by not using harmful pesticides.