SIB “Bird of the Week” – Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle – Haliaeetus leucocephalus
Length:  31″; Wingspan: 80″; Weight: 152 oz.

Did you guess Bald Eagle to the question we asked on Friday?  Few sounds symbolize American patriotism like the piercing shrill of a Bald Eagle. But just like George Washington and his cherry tree, that majestic call … is a myth. The screech associated with the bald eagle, in fact, belongs to a different bird.  Bird expert Connie Stanger blames Hollywood. You know the scene: “You’ve got John Wayne riding through the sunset and you hear the jingle of spurs and often that piercing, loud cry.”

It’s a cry that’s synonymous with America’s national bird. But there’s a problem says Stanger, who works at the World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise. If you were to look up at the bird making that sound in real life you wouldn’t see a bald eagle. “They dub over it with a Red-tailed Hawk’s cry,” Stanger says. And the reason? Well, take a listen to what the bald eagle actually sounds like … “Unfortunately for the bald eagle, it has like a little cackling type of a laugh that’s not really very impressive for the bird,” Stanger explains.

Bald Eagle - C Moore
Bald Eagle – C Moore

Seabrook Island residents have a special bond with the Bald Eagle. For many years’ residents, have enjoyed the year-round antics of a pair of nesting eagles in the sky over Seabrook Island. With their nest in plain view near Hole 3 of the Oceans Winds Golf Course, their nesting and rearing activities, including the maiden flights of the young eagles each year have become a highlight for many golfers and island residents.

Unfortunately, the eagle’s host tree was very old, in poor condition and after the nesting season last year collapsed during a rain storm. Many residents worried that the eagles would not find a new home nearby and would either select a remote new home or worse leave the Island. These fears proved to be unjustified as Seabrook island’s eagles have selected a new home in a nearby pine tree and are busy preparing to raise another family this year.

The Bald Eagle has a body length of 28 to 40 inches. Typical wingspan is between 6 to 7.5 feet and they normally weigh between 6.5 and 14 pounds. Females are about 25% larger than males, averaging about 12 pounds, against the males’ average weight of 9.0 pounds.

The common name, “Bald Eagle” refers to the older meaning of the word, “white headed”. Males and females have identical plumage, dark brown with a white head and tail. Immature Bald Eagles are solid brown and gain more white over the next four years when they finally reach maturity with the white head and tail. The beak is large and hooked.

Bald Eagles typically stay mated for life (usually 20 years or so) and continue to visit the nest site and add to it each year. The Bald Eagle builds the largest nest of any bird. Record nests have been used for more than 30 years and have reached masses of two or more tons. Eagles first breed at 4-5 years of age. Courtship and nest building begins in late September or early October.

Eggs are laid in December/February. The young hatch after 34-36 days of incubation. Young are fed bite-sized pieces of dead animals (fish, birds) or carrion for the first three weeks or so, then whole fish, reptiles, birds, and small mammals are brought to the nest for the young to tear apart on their own.

Young fly at 10-12 weeks of age but often continue to return to the nest for several weeks to roost and rest. Eventually the parents leave them on their own and they become completely independent before their first winter.

Chosen as an American symbol in 1782, the Bald Eagle was nearly pushed to extinction by pesticides, habitat loss and indiscriminate hunting over the next one hundred years. Thanks to federal legislation, including the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act of 1940 and the Endangered Species Act of 1973, Bald Eagles have made a complete recovery and were removed from the endangered species list in 2007.

Today, Bald Eagles are found in every state except Hawaii. The United States Bald Eagle population is estimated by the Audubon Society to have doubled from 1995 to 2015 to approximately 30,000 birds.

If you would like to learn more about this bird visit:

Article submitted by:  Charles Moore
Photographs provided by:  Charles Moore

This blog post is part of a series SIB will publish on a regular basis to feature birds seen in the area, both migratory and permanent residents.  When possible we will use photographs taken by our members.    Please let us know if you have any special requests of birds you would like to learn more about.

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