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10:01 p.m. - 2005-03-04
America's National Bird!
Greetings! Happy March to you all. This weekend prompted a trip to Wisconsin. I was very excited to visit my family, relax, and hit the "best thrift store in Oshvegas" (according to my sisters). Indeed, the shopping was good; I bought two coats, two blazers, a shirt and a pie safe, all for $50!

The wildlife front was pretty good: the usual obese squirrels at my Mom's bird feeder, though two unusual sightings occurred. Well, the first doesn't really count, as it took place at my uncle's house. He's a big game hunter, and there were creatures mounted in their house that I've never seen before! Like a ram with two sets of curved horns? Deer with crazy antlers? Not to mention a wildebeest, a kudu (the antelope with the spiral-y horns), an entire mountain lion and javelina, a boar's head, etc etc etc! That was a trip.

The second animal sighting was on the way to my uncle's. My sister L and I spotted a bald eagle enjoying some roadkill! I've never seen an eagle scavenging before.

If picturing that made you feel uncomfortable about America's national bird, I recommend you imagine a visual collage of the noble eagle and an American Flag, superimposed on a picture of the U.S. Capitol. Feel better?

Whew. So this is the second Critter Corner write up about a bird of prey. An Accipitridae family member, like the kite, hawk and vulture, the bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) is a member of the fish and sea eagle sub-group. Their closest relatives live in Africa and Asia. Bald eagles are the only eagle only found in North America; ususally around waterways. They are most commonly found in Alaska and the northwest coast, most likely because of the salmon populations there.

Bald eagles are about ten to fifteen pounds and have a wingspan of 72 to 90 inches. Females are larger than males. The birds can lift up to four pounds, and can eat one pound of fish per minute. (I'll have to compare myself to this statistic at the next all-you-can-eat fish fry I attend!)

Apparently eagles are slower than some of the falcon family, and their vision is only four times better than a person with 20/20 eyesight. Hence, bald eagles can see submerged fish from several hundred feet away. Their eyes are special in that they can see both forward and peripherally at the same time. This is because they possess two foveae, or focus points in each eye. So an eagle hovering 1,000 feet off the ground can see any movement happening within three square miles! (Bunnies, watch out!)

Life is hard for eagles. About 40% young eagles die on their first attempt at flying. That is if they survive life in the nest, where larger siblings often kill smaller ones. Power lines are a danger for birds with this large a wingspan, since they can touch two hot wires at once. Also, if an eagle miscalculates and dives into the water, it could die from hypothermia. (Although eagles do swim). Even with all the attack skills listed above, bald eagles take 15 to 20 attempts at hunting before they score a meal. Thankfully they don't need to eat every day, and there is often carrion available. But scavenging has risks, too. Sometimes eagles encounter poisoned meat set out for coyotes or other nuisance animals. Or they die from lead poisoning from swallowing B.B.'s found in deceased animals.

On a more positive note, (smart and lucky) bald eagles can live for 30 years! And they mate for life and usually breed yearly. Like the hawks, the mating season is about now up here in the north. Most eagles in the midwest migrate south to the central U.S., then head back up in spring for nooky. But in warmer climates like Florida, migration isn't necessary.

Eagles' nests are called aeries. They are from five to nine feet wide (eagles ususally build onto the same nest each year.) The female lays two to three eggs, several days apart, and the parents take turns incubating them for about 35 days. The babies grow quickly; gaining about one pound per five days. After six weeks adult feathers form, and eagles start flying at around ten to thirteen weeks. Like in the hawk family, the juvenile eagles are fed by their parents at first, and have the summer to learn to hunt.

Bald eagles are one of the few U.S. animals to come off the endangered species list. Their peers in this honor include the California gray whale and the American alligator. So...keep your eye out for these majestic birds, either soaring high above or enjoying a snack on the side of the road!



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