In addition to my time watching and listening to the huge "murder" of crows that seems to convene regularly in the branches of dead trees in our woods, I have been watching 5 eagles fly over our bluff on a very regular basis also. I am guessing that all 5 of these young eagles (they look full grown but do not have the white heads or the white tail feathers yet) are from the same nest of hatchlings. I have no evidence but all 5 of them soar together on the "thermal convection currents" of warm drafts coming up from the surface of the earth.
My curiosity led me to research bald eagles and they are amazing birds, as are all the creatures of the land, sea, and sky. Bald eagles are called bald because the old meaning of "bald" is "white". The official scientific name of bald eagles is a real mouthful: Haliaectus leucocephalus"…..do you see the Latin words meaning "white" and "head" in the leuco-word? "Leuco" is white and "cephalus" refers to "head". But bald eagles do not get white heads til they are 4-5 years old. The eagles I am watching each day are totally brown..young eagles no doubt. The first time we spotted an eagle over on Boyer Lake east of Lake Park more than a decade ago when we were canoe enthusiasts,it was a brown eagle and we, not being up on eagle knowledge, thought it was a Golden Eagle. Wrong…just an immature bald…Goldens live in the Western part of the United States I have learned.
These young eagles already have huge wing spans. The information I found on bald eagles tells me that the wingspan can be up to 96 inches wide….that is 8 feet! No wonder they look so huge even when soaring high above the ground. That wide wingspan allows them to fly up to speeds of 35-45 mph. Eagles, who prefer riding on the thermals, really do not have to do much wing-flapping. Instead they choose to soar on the days when the thermals are strong and they can just glide. I have watched these 5 eagles soaring above our land along the river and I know they are using their "eagle eyes" to watch for prey—–eagles prefer fish and I have noticed that their cruising usually involves following the Buffalo River below our bluff. But they will also prey on rabbits, hares, otters, beavers, raccoons, muskrats and have been known to pick up deer fawns. One example of this was the info. that an eagle has been observed carrying (with some difficulty) a half-grown mule deer fawn. I get a bit nervous when I see the five eagles soaring low over the bluff….I want to make sure my Miss Kitty is not out in the open but she usually is undercover at all times—she learned her lessons well from her wild mother cat. I think that ranchers who raise sheep are also wary of bald eagles picking up young lambs from their pastures.
A healthy mature bald eagle fears no other animal preying upon it; eagles are at the top of the feeding chain and are called "apex predators" which must mean that nothing tops them as predators. Their eyesight, their strong talons and their ability to soar and swoop down on prey, especially fish in large bodies of water, where the eagles prefer their nesting spots, make them super-predators. Only a couple of weeks ago, when we were out in our boat on a large lake in the area, I observed a bald eagle swoop down to the water’s surface and scoop up a fairly good- sized fish. It flew off into the shore line no doubt to eat the fish at its nest or to feed its eaglets, if they were still in the nest.
Eagles are the largest of all the birds of prey, weighing up to 15 pounds when mature. Female eagles are larger than males which is kind of a turnaround in the world of animals..males are usually larger than females but not so with bald eagles.
Eagles’ nests are also amazing. One has been recorded as being 13 feet deep; eagles do not build new nests each year but return to their previous nests and add sticks and other materials til the nests become huge structures in the forks of strong tree branches. We saw one of these very deep nests in a large tree along Boyer Lake at the same time as we saw our first eagle….more than a decade ago. Both the sight of the eagle and its nest was gripping at the time and we nearly capsized our canoe tying to get closer to the shore where we saw the bird and the nest.
Bald eagles were an endangered species due to the proliferation of the chemical DDT in the environment; DDT caused eagle eggs to have thin shells and many eggs broke in the nest without ever hatching for many years. With the ban on DDT lasting many years already, bald eagles "came back" in numbers large enough to have them taken off the endangered species list in 2007. When we first lived on our rural property, we never saw eagles; now they are a common sight, as they are at the area lakes nearby.
The majestic eagle is the national bird, and contrary to early stories, Benjamin Franklin never favored the wild turkey to become the national symbol. Franklin always favored the eagle and early U.S. founders related to the noble eagle as our symbol because it was ancient Rome’s symbol also…a true symbol of power and majesty.
Once about 2 years ago while boating, we observed what we thought were two large eagles fighting. I have learned from my research that what we saw was more likely an "eagle mating" dance in mid-air. The two large eagles flew at each other, locking talons and spinning in dizzying circles over head. It was a fascinating sight and even more fascinating now that I realize it was an "eagle dance" in the air for the purpose of future mating. Eagles mate for life unless one of the mates dies, then the other eagle will seek another mate.
Bald Eagles and other species of eagles have always been a part of Native American lore and religion. In the Sun Dance which is performed by many Plains Indian tribes, eagles and eagle feathers and eagle claws are a huge part of the religious ritual of the Sun Dance. A whistle carved from an eagle wingbone starts the Sun Dance. A Medicine Man uses an eagle feather to point out those who need to be healed and points his eagle feather heavenward to carry the plea for healing to the gods in the sky. Natives considered eagles to be messengers from the gods to humankind.
For anyone who attends a Pow-Wow of Native Americans, the eagle feathers are prominent parts of their costumes…..the large tail feathers are used in headresses and other feathers are part of the "bustle" of dancers costumes.
I will continue to "soar on Eagle’s wings, as long as the 5 young eagles stay around our Buffalo Bluff this season. I cannot share the ride on the thermals, but I can imagine what it must be like to fly like an eagle.