Our national symbol and the first bird on a U.S. stamp, the Bald Eagle is an icon for the success of the Endangered Species Act. Once decimated by DDT, it has recovered and was removed from the endangered list in 2007. In 1963 there were only 400 nesting pairs in the lower 48 states; today there are an estimated 10,000. Alaska has twice that many.
In 1782, when Congress chose the Bald Eagle to represent our country, there were an estimated 75,000 nesting Bald Eagles. Benjamin Franklin, in a letter to his daughter, expressed his displeasure, preferring the Wild Turkey instead. Franklin based his opinion on the fact that Bald Eagles often eat carrion and will steal fish from Osprey, “amoral behavior” for a national symbol. Franklin was correct and if you have ever been to Alaska, where there are no vultures, you will see Bald Eagles hanging around garbage dumps and eating roadkill as vultures do here. And to see an eagle stealing from an Osprey, see this U-tube video
The Bald Eagle’s scientific name, Haliaeetus leucocephalus, means “sea eagle with a white head”. The word “bald” did not originally mean hairless but comes from the word “piebald”, meaning patched. (Think of the Pied Piper who wore a coat of patches and see the photo of the Pied Wagtail.) The patches of white on the eagle’s head and tail gave rise to “Bald” Eagle.
There is no biological difference between a hawk and an eagle, but those named eagles tend to be bigger birds with wider wings and heavier beaks. The smallest eagle, the Little Eagle of Australasia (pictured), weighs just under two pounds and is the size of a Peregrine Falcon.
Bald Eagles are said to mate for life, but there is no solid evidence for that. They certainly form long term pair bonds. Typically 2-3 eggs are laid and the young hatch in 35 days. Three months later they are on their own, but as many as half of the fledglings do not survive their first year. Those that do are mostly brown with some white speckling, resembling a Golden Eagle (which has feathered legs down to the toes and the Bald Eagle does not.) It takes five years to develop the majestic white head and tail.
Although recovered to a relatively healthy population,