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Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)

By: C.M.Shorter

Florida Everglades
Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

The Bald Eagle, a magnificent bird found in the Florida Everglades and across the North American Continent, is held in high esteem and has a very important place in American history. The Bald Eagle is a great conservation success and the proud National Emblem of the United States. Bald Eagles soar high above us making use of uprising currents and seem to float effortlessly riding the wind. It is their wing tip feathers, called primaries, that are tapered to reduce air turbulence when fully extended which allows a silent, swift approach to capture prey much like the "ear tufts" nature gave the Caracal and Lynx . Bald Eagles can fly at speeds of 30 mph, dive for prey at an amazing 100 mph and have excellent vision for honing in on prey of fish and small mammals. Their exceptionally keen eyesight with the ability to spot prey at a distance of over 1 mile gave rise to the popular saying of an "Eagle's Eye".


The Bald Eagle was chosen as America's National Symbol by the Second Continental Congress of the United States in 1782 for its majestic appearance depicting strength and for the dedication & perseverance associated with the American people. The Bald Eagle is also honored with a numismatic heritage appearing on our Nation's coins as long ago as 1776 with its likeness first minted on a Massachusetts copper coin. It was in 1795 the Bald Eagle made its first appearance on gold coins called "eagles". The American Bald Eagle is depicted on many coins holding an olive branch to symbolize peace or unfurled wings symbolizing freedom with the Latin phrase "E Pluribus Unum" which means "Out of Many-One". This is our National Motto signifying the union of America's original 13 colonies into one great nation. On Federal Reserve currency notes, many U.S Mint coins and on the Seal of the President of the United States the American Bald Eagle holds the Olive Branch in the right talon and a bundle of thirteen arrows in the left talon denoting the power of peace & war vested in Congress. The Eagle originally faced the arrows but in 1945 Harry Truman signed an Executive Order mandating that the Eagle must face the peaceful olive branches, the way we now see our Nation's Symbol portrayed on legal tender & government seals.

At the time when European settlers first came to the United States, then called the New World, Bald Eagles were plentiful spanning a large part of North America. By the early 1960's the Bald Eagle population had diminished so significantly, due primarily to poaching & habitat loss, only 450 mating pairs could be found in the lower 48 states. First protected by the Bald Eagle Protection Act of 1940, the Bald Eagle was officially listed on the Endangered Species Act in 1967. At that time is was made a felony to shoot, trap or harm a Bald Eagle in any way. Subsequent revisions to the Act in 1972 increased penalties and offered rewards.

In this same year 1972, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) outlawed use of the agricultural pesticide DDT in the United States. Crop dusters spraying large areas with this highly toxic poison were very detrimental not only to the Bald Eagle but to many animals as it worked its way into the water, lakes, streams and rivers into the food chain. Ingestion of DDT-tainted fish caused the Bald Eagle population to spiral downward by laying eggs with shells so thin they cracked before the young eaglets could hatch. Due to their conservation status, ongoing protection and continued monitoring by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services (USFWS) the population of Bald Eagles made a significant recovery. Bald Eagles are a conservation success story being one of the first animals to be taken off the Endangered Species list in 1995 and upgraded then given only a "Threatened" status with now over 6,000 mating pairs in the continental United States.

The Bald Eagle is a large raptor more commonly called a bird of prey, and in fact is not "Bald" at all. Adult plumage consists of the easily recognizable white head and tail with dark brown body. Juvenile eagles are completely dark brown and they do not develop the characteristics adult plumage until 5-6 years of age.

Bald Eagles have a primary diet of fish but they also hunt moles, squirrels, and other birds & small mammals. They range throughout the continental U.S. with higher concentrations of Bald Eagles found throughout the coastlines, from the mangrove swamps of the Everglades to the artic wilderness of Alaska. Bald Eagles build nest in impenetrable places high on cliffs or in coniferous treetops inaccessible to most predators. Nest are very large measuring up to 6ft. across, weigh hundreds of pounds and are made with large sticks lined with soft pine needles and grasses.


Male and female Bald Eagles are similar in overall appearance but they are sexually dimorphic with the females being larger than the males. Females weigh an average of 14 lbs with males weighing in at 10 lbs. These regal birds have an amazing wingspan of 6 1/2 to 8 ft. Females lay anywhere from 1-4 eggs, with 2 being average with incubation and hatching in about 35 days. Within 3-4 months the fledglings are ready to fend for themselves. As with most birds, in times of drought or limited prey, the mother feeds and cares only for only the strongest of the young abiding by nature's law of survival of the fittest. Eagles reach sexual maturity at 5 years of age and breed with remarkable aerial acrobatic displays locking talons during mating. A Bald Eagle's lifespan in the wild is 25-28 years and they been known to live in captivity for up to 50 years.

Today, with our modern technology researchers actually attach small mini-cams to the Bald Eagle giving them an aerial view from the Eagle's vantage point. Many wildlife restoration projects remain underway to clean up and maintain historic Bald Eagle habitat. Several webcams are available on-line to educate the public and increase awareness for these majestic animals. Eagle Cams are set up from East to West coast in Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Cambridge, Massachusetts, New York's Dept. of Parks & Recreation over the Hudson Bay, Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, Ft. St. Vrein Eagle Cam in Platteville, Colorado, to the Santa Catalina Islands and the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife in Kent & the Puget Sound to name a few. Many visit these webcams to witness a Bald Eagle first-hand and watch these amazing birds resting, feeding and going about their daily activities. The Kent & Puget Sound Bald Eagle conservation program is funded through sale of personalized license plates and private donations much like the program in place in Florida to fund the critically endangered Florida Panther conservation efforts. It is our strong hope that we will continue to preserve habitat and increase populations of this keystone species as a symbol to the world and our people of our commitment to wildlife and our ongoing commitment to honor our national heritage.

More on Florida Everglades:
Florida Everglades | Pictures of Florida Everglades | Map of Florida Everglades | Animals Florida Everglades | Marjory Stoneman Douglas | Everglades Endangered Species
The full index of all Florida Everglades Information can be found in Tigerhomes.org Education Center

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