Bird’s-eye View: Celebrate the bald eagle for Independence Day | News


Tweetings, fellow birders! As it’s Independence Day, what better way to celebrate than to introduce a famous American character? Nope, I’m not talking about Uncle Sam or the Statue of Liberty. No, this week we’re featuring the bald eagle, that great symbol of our country – our soaring giant.

While the bald eagle is instantly recognized by many on sight, we should still delve a bit into its physical description. A large raptor with a wingspan of 6 to 8 feet, its plumage is fully brown until 5 to 6 years of age, at which point they develop the classic white head and tail, with the beak, wide eyes and feet being yellow.

Their talons and spurs are meant for hunting prey, and their keen eyesight is highly specialized for this purpose. They possess opposing toes which make it easier for them to grasp their catch, and their legs are bare above the feet to prevent wet feathers.

On average they are around 30 to 40 inches in body length, with the female, at 10 to 15 pounds, being larger than the male at 7 to 10 pounds.

The bird often soars high, drifting on air currents to preserve energy, as all that flapping can be quite stenuous and costly.

Bald Eagles can live up to 20 years or even longer, and an adult pair will mate for life. Nests are large — 6 feet or more across and 10 feet or more deep — to help support the growing feathered family. One to two eaglets are raised per year, and the birds migrate north in the summer for seasonal breeding.

Your chances of seeing one here in New England might be better in winter, as they migrate south from Canada during that time. However, bald eagles are located all across the North American continent, and establish personal territories, which they will defend. Their numbers have increased here in the United States over the last few decades, a trend we all hope will continue in the years to come.

Now, as Bald Eagles are always found near deep bodies of water, the Merrimack River would naturally be a fine locale to seek them out. They feed mostly on fish, snatching them from the waves, as they can spot even the slightest ripple or disturbance on the glistening surface. Newburyport is a good location, as the Merrimack empties out there into the Gulf of Maine. The Winnipesaukee River, as well as Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire, might also offer prime viewing.

It’s important to stress that you never, under any circumstances, approach this bird or attempt to get a closer looks at their eggs or nestlings. They are extremely protective and can be very aggressive if they feel threatened in any way. Remember, they are hunters with 2-inch talons, and an attack by such a creature could even be fatal.

Bald eagles also have been officially protected under US law since 1940, so it would be illegal to even try and grab a feather for a souvenir. Just observe these fine birds from a safe distance, granting them the respect they so richly deserve.

If you do, I’m sure they’ll be glad to give you a patriotic fly over. Bald eagles love to get a grand look at the entire countryside.

Fun facts about our national symbol:

  • No, bald eagles aren’t actually “bald.” The name is derived from the old English word “balde,” meaning “white” or “white headed.”
  • The call of the bald eagle is actually soft and somewhat lacking in pitch, so in Hollywood films their cry is often dubbed over by the vocalization of other eagles or hawks (especially the red-tailed hawk).
  • The nest of a bald eagle can weigh more than a ton!
  • The design of the Great Seal of the United States of America was adopted in 1782, and it depicts a bald eagle grasping 13 arrows in its left talon and an olive branch with 13 leaves in its right (E
  • Pluribus Unum!). and no, Benjamin Franklin did not publicly denounce the bald eagle in favor of the wild turkey, although he may have preferred the turkey for Thanksgiving.

And now, for the real fireworks — the traditional bad joke:

Q: What type of bird is King of the Raptors?

A: A “Regal Eagle!”

Oh man, that should be illegal. Get it? “Ill-eagle.”

Alright. I understand. Just send the angry letters to my poor editor.

Happy Birding!

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