Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
The legendary Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) has long been a symbol of power, wisdom and beauty. Many of the Native American tribes chose to venerate the bird, while European settlers chose to make it the national symbol of the country. As it flies it makes use of thermal convection currents and other environmental factors to give the picture of effortless grace that so easily captivates man’s admiration. Bald Eagles may emit a squeak or a shrill cry punctuated by grunts as they fly but do not make the eagle scream that one so commonly associates with them. As one sees the Bald Eagle soaring high above, it may be seem infallible. However, for much of the 20th century, this beautiful bird was on the brink of extinction.
Also known as the American Eagle, the bird can be found in much of North America and its range stretches all the way from northern Mexico to most of Canada. Those found below the 38 degree North latitude belong to the subspecies leucocephalus while those above this latitude belong to the subspecies washingtoniensis. The Bald Eagle gets its name from the word piebald which was used to refer to the dark and white colouring of the bird’s head and body. The immature Bald Eagle has speckled brown plumage and looks similar to the Golden Eagle. However, the Bald Eagle has feathers down its legs while the Golden Eagle does not. After two or three years, the Bald Eagle starts to reach sexual maturity and it develops its distinctive white head and tailm and its dark brown body. The average adult has a wingspan of about 7 feet (2m) and can weigh between 4.1 and 5.8 kg’s depending on gender. Wild Bald Eagles generally live between 20-30 years, although they may live as long as 60 years in captivity if their needs are well catered for. Nests may be as big as eight feet across and parents share nesting responsibilities. The female may lay between one and three eggs but it is rare for all offspring to fly successfully.
In 1984, the National Wildlife Federation listed hunting, electrocution, collisions in flight and poisoning as the leading causes of death. For many years there was controversy surrounding the effect of the pesticide DDT on the bird but after extensive research it was found that the chemical had little – if any – effect on the Bald Eagle. Today, after years of careful preservation, the species is no longer in danger. There is a stable population of eagles spread across the continent with steady growth being evident in certain parts of the country, and about half of all Bald Eagles being found in Alaska. Bald Eagles are protected by law and illegal possession of either dead or live birds is considered a felony.