GOLDEN BALD EAGLES

Wisdom can be attained by good leadership and endurance. Keep it up!
By Valerie Fotso

Description: Bald eagles are one of the most adorable birds and it’s the National Bird in the United States. If you don’t remember what a bald eagle looks like, simply pull out a quarter or a dollar. An eagle is shown on the back of the quarter and holding an olive branch and arrows on the one dollar bill. Bald eagles are large, predatory raptors. Their body and wings are dark brown in color. Their head and tail are bright white. Their feet and bill of bald eagles are yellow. Their bill is large and hooked at the tip.

Juvenile bald eagles look very different from the adults. Young bald eagles are almost entirely brown with occasional white markings on the underside of the wings and chest. As the juvenile gets older, the bill will turn from dark brownish-black to yellow and the head and tail turn white.

Size: Bald eagles grow to about 2½-3 feet in height. They have a wingspan of about 6½ feet. Female bald eagles are larger than the males.

Diet: Bald eagles love fish! When fish are not available, bald eagles will eat whatever they can catch including small birds, rodents, and dead meat. Bald eagles have no problem stealing food from other birds!

Typical Lifespan: Bald eagles can live to about 20-30 years of age in the wild. They live even longer in captivity. Bald eagles in the wild face a lot of threats that reduce their lifespan, including chemical pollutants, such as mercury, persistent organic chemicals, heavy metals and DDT.

Bald Eagle Habitat:

Bald eagles like lakes—big lakes. During the summer, they can be seen soaring above lakes and in the nearby trees. They prefer lakes and reservoirs with lots of fish and surrounding forests. In the fall and winter, bald eagles can be seen around unfrozen lakes and hunting along coastlines, reservoirs and rivers. During the migration, bald eagles are seen near all types of water habitats.

Range: Bald eagles are North American birds. Their range extends from the Mexico border through the United States and Canada. Bald eagles are extremely populous in Alaska! If you live in Alaska, along the East and West coasts, the Rocky Mountains and the Mississippi River then you can see bald eagles all year. The rest of the United States only sees bald eagles during the winter and their migration.

Population decline and recovery

Once a common sight in much of the continent, the bald eagle was severely affected in the mid-20th century by a variety of factors, among them the thinning of egg shells attributed to use of the pesticide DDT. Bald eagles, like many birds of prey, were especially affected by DDT due to bio-magnification. DDT itself was not lethal to the adult bird, but it interfered with the bird’s calcium metabolism, making the bird either sterile or unable to lay healthy eggs. Female eagles laid eggs that were too brittle to withstand the weight of a brooding adult, making it nearly impossible for the eggs to hatch. It is estimated that in the early 18th century, the bald eagle population was 300,000–500,000, but by the 1950s there were only 412 nesting pairs in the 48 contiguous states of the US. Other factors in bald eagle population reductions were a widespread loss of suitable habitat, as well as both legal and illegal shooting. In 1930 a New York City ornithologist wrote that in the state of Alaska in the previous 12 years approximately 70,000 bald eagles had been shot. Many of the hunters killed the bald eagles under the long-held beliefs that bald eagles grabbed young lambs and even children with their talons, yet the birds were innocent of most of these alleged acts of predation (lamb predation is rare, human predation is thought to be non-existent). Later illegal shooting was described as “the leading cause of direct mortality in both adult and immature bald eagles,” according to a 1978 report in the Endangered Species Technical Bulletin. In 1984, the National Wildlife Federation listed hunting, power-line electrocution, and collisions in flight as the leading causes of eagle deaths. Bald eagles have also been killed by oil, lead, and mercury pollution, and by human and predator intrusion at nests.

The species was first protected in the U.S. and Canada by the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty, later extended to all of North America. The 1940 bald eagle Protection Act in the U.S., which protected the bald eagle and the golden eagle, prohibited commercial trapping and killing of the birds. The bald eagle was declared an endangered species in the U.S. in 1967, and amendments to the 1940 act between 1962 and 1972 further restricted commercial uses and increased penalties for violators. Perhaps most significant in the species’ recovery, in 1972, DDT was banned from usage in the United States. DDT was completely banned in Canada in 1989, though its use had been highly restricted since the late 1970s.

With regulations in place and DDT banned, the eagle population rebounded. The bald eagle can be found in growing concentrations throughout the United States and Canada, particularly near large bodies of water. In the early 1980s, the estimated total population was 100,000 individuals, with 110,000–115,000 by 1992; the U.S. state with the largest resident population is Alaska, with about 40,000–50,000, with the next highest population the Canadian province of British Columbia with 20,000–30,000 in 1992. Obtaining a precise count of bald eagles population is extremely difficult. The most recent data submitted by individual states was in 2006, when 9789 breeding pairs were reported. For some time, the stronghold breeding population of bald eagles in the lower 48 states was in Florida, where over a thousand pairs have held on while populations in other states were significantly reduced by DDT use. Today, the contiguous state with the largest number of breeding pairs of eagles is Minnesota with an estimated 1,312 pairs, surpassing Florida’s most recent count of 1,166 pairs. 23, or nearly half, of the 48 contiguous states now have at least 100 breeding pairs of bald eagles. The above extract was taken from this website.

The bald eagle was officially removed from the U.S. federal government’s list of endangered species on July 12, 1995, by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, when it was reclassified from “Endangered” to “Threatened.” On July 6, 1999, a proposal was initiated “To Remove the Bald Eagle in the Lower 48 States From the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife.” It was de-listed on June 28, 2007. It has also been assigned a risk level of Least Concern category on the IUCN Red List. In the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill of 1989 an estimated 247 were killed in Prince William Sound, though the local population returned to its pre-spill level by 1995.

In Native American culture

The Bald Eagle is a holy bird in some North American cultures. Its feathers are thought to be special. They are used very much in spiritual customs among the Native Americans. Eagles are thought as messengers between gods and humans. Eagle feathers are often used in traditional things, especially in fans. The Lakota people, for instance, give an eagle feather as a symbol of honor to a person who achieves a task. In modern times, it may be given on an event such as a graduation from college. The Pawnee people thought eagles as symbols of nature and fertility. This is because their nests are built high off the ground, and because they protect their young very bravely. The Choctaw explained that the Bald Eagle, who can see the sun more directly, is a symbol of peace.
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