Friday, September 3, 2010

Going Bald

Last summer, we were thrilled to see a mated pair of Bald Eagles at the Cape in Maine. Every evening at cocktail time on Steadfast's back deck, hubby and I watched them circle Weir Cove one last time before sunset.  This latest visit gave us cause for rejoicing when we discovered a second pair!  On our first evening there, a flurry of wings caught our attention as the newest pair flew in, established a perch on the highest tip of a black spruce overlooking the water and prepared to fish.  The incoming tides push fish close to shore and the predatory birds keep watch for the chance at an easy supper. 

The national bird and symbol of the United States, the Bald Eagle is a large bird of the sea eagle family.  Not bald in the true sense of the word, its name is derived from "piebald" which means "marked with white".  Eaglets hatch a downy grey colour and turn dark brown by the time they fledge. They develope the white head and tail when they reach maturity around two years of age. 

Bald Eagles are the largest bird of prey in Canada.  Their wingspan is over 2 meters (6 feet) making an impressive sighting for a city dweller like me.  Both sexes are identical in colouration, but the female is significantly larger than the male:  2.7 to 4 kg. for the male and 4.l5 to 6.8 kg. for the female.  Their life span is 25 to 40 years and they mate for life. 

They have no natural enemies, but the crows do gang up on them one at a time to drive them from a favoured roosting tree.   Human interference is what has caused endangerment to this species.  The introduction of DDT in 1947 to its banning in 1972 caused defects in the egg production, fertilization and incubation.  Egg shells became too thin and brittle to withstand nesting.  Even today, most eagle habitats have more adults than juveniles.

Here is an interesting fact that I discovered: if an eagle somehow looses just one feather from one of its wings, an identical feather from the opposite wing will fall out too. The reason for this is to maintain a fine balance.

Have you ever seen a Bald Eagle's nest?  What a sight!  As big as a Queen Size bed, they are 5 feet across, 2 feet high and weigh up to 4000 pounds. They are made from sticks and branches, lined with grasses and moss.  Used year after year by the same pair of birds, the nests continue to grow over time.  At each gestation, an eagle will hatch only two eggs.  Once the eagles are beginning to grow, the stronger and bigger of the two babies will aggressively claim all sustenance, while the weaker of the two will slowly die of starvation.  A true lesson in "survival of the fittest".

Although removed from the Endangered Speices List, many people feel that the plight of the Bald Eagle is still not a happy one.  Loss of habitat, trophy hunting and pollution are all causes for concern.  It was a happy day for us when we discovered the Eagle population at the Cape has doubled in just one year.  Perhaps the tide has turned in that one area and things will continue to improve.

Have you ever seen a Bald Eagle?  Keep your eyes peeled around rivers, lakes and sea shores and you just might get lucky.  If you see what looks like the messiest/ugliest tree house in the world, keep a watch out around dawn and dusk during nesting seasons and again, you might get a glimpse. 

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