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|Common name:||Bald eagle|
|Scientific name:||Haliaeetus leucocephalus|
|Other names:||American Eagle|
|Status on Vashon:||Common|
The Bald Eagle is a bird of prey often seen on Vashon. Its range includes most of Canada and Alaska, all of the contiguous United States, and northern Mexico. It is found near large bodies of open water with an abundant food supply and old-growth trees for nesting. It is partially migratory, depending on location. If its territory has access to open water, it remains there year-round, but if the body of water freezes during the winter, making it impossible to obtain food, it migrates to the south or to the coast.
The Bald Eagle is a powerful flier, and soars on thermal convection currents. It reaches speeds of 35–43 mph when gliding and flapping, and about 30 mph while carrying fish. Its dive speed is between 75–99 mph, though it seldom dives vertically.
The Bald Eagle is an opportunistic feeder which subsists mainly on fish, which it swoops down and snatches from the water with its talons. In 20 food habit studies across the species' range, fish comprised 56% of the diet of nesting eagles, birds 28%, mammals 14%, and other prey 2%. It builds the largest nest of any North American bird and the largest tree nests ever recorded for any animal species, up to 13 ft deep, 8.2 ft wide, and 1.1 tons in weight. Sitka Spruce provide 78% of the nesting trees used by eagles, followed by hemlocks at 20%.
The sexes are identical in plumage, but females are larger than males. The beak is large and hooked. The plumage of the immature is brown. The Bald Eagle has sometimes been considered the largest true raptor (accipitrid) in North America, with a wingspan of between 5.9 and 7.5 ft. The call consists of weak staccato, chirping whistles, kleek kik ik ik ik, somewhat similar in cadence to a gull's call. The calls of young birds tend to be more harsh and shrill than those of adults.
Bald Eagles are sexually mature at four or five years of age. When they are old enough to breed, they often return to the area where they were born. It is thought that Bald Eagles mate for life. However, if one member of a pair dies or disappears, the other will choose a new mate. A pair which has repeatedly failed in breeding attempts may split and look for new mates. Bald Eagle courtship involves elaborate, spectacular calls and flight displays. The flight includes swoops, chases, and cartwheels, in which they fly high, lock talons, and free fall, separating just before hitting the ground. Usually, a territory defended by a mature pair will be 1 to 2 km (0.62 to 1.2 mi) of waterside habitat. Eggs hatch from mid-April to early May, and the young fledge late June to early July. The young eaglets pick up and manipulate sticks, play tug of war with each other, practice holding things in their talons, and stretch and flap their wings. By eight weeks, the eaglets are strong enough to flap their wings, lift their feet off the nest platform, and rise up in the air. The average lifespan of Bald Eagles in the wild is around 20 years, with the oldest confirmed one having been 28 years of age.
The Bald Eagle is both the national bird and national animal of the US. It is also a sacred bird in some North American cultures, and its feathers are central to many religious and spiritual customs among Native Americans. In the late 20th century it was on the brink of extirpation in the continental US. Populations recovered and the species was removed from the list of endangered species on July 12, 1995 and transferred to the list of threatened species. It was removed from the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife in the Lower 48 States on June 28, 2007.
|More details:||Encyclopedia of Life|
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