Around Our Grounds, Bald Eagles

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Written by Gabriel Ricketts

On February 5, 2020
The Majestic Bald Eagle

The Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) is one of the most widely known birds in the United States, and that is attributed to it being our National Bird. To many people, the Bald Eagle is the symbol of freedom. Lake Holiday is lucky to host a few Bald Eagles throughout the year and I do not think I have met a resident of our community who has not seen one at some point.                  

Adult Bald Eagles are easy for most people to identify, with their massive size, black/dark brown body, white head and white tail. Juvenile and immature Bald Eagles, however, are highly variable and are often confused with large hawks and vultures. They can best be identified by their massive size, big head, long tail, and rather messy dark brown and white appearance. It can take up to six years before a young eagle attains its adult plumage.

The Bald Eagles’ diet consists mostly of fish, but they will also eat birds (mostly waterfowl), amphibians, reptiles, and will commonly eat carcasses of roadkill, or hunter-shot animals.

In most movies and radio/television commercials featuring Bald Eagles, we often hear a fearsome screech that most people know as the call of the Bald Eagle. The truth is that Bald Eagles do not screech, but rather make loud high-pitched twittering noises and whistles. The screech is actually the call of the Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis). Maybe it is because the hawk screech sounds more fearsome and better suited for our National Symbol, stirring thoughts of freedom, justice, and liberty in the hearts and minds of many, while the real call is rather pitiful (not to disparage our National Symbol).

Our National Symbol has been through some rough times. Once abundant in our country’s early years, the Bald Eagle became very rare and endangered in the mid-to-late 20th Century due to hunting, trapping, poisoning, and reproductive failure because of the pesticide DDT.

In 1978, the Bald Eagle was listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act, and after the banning of DDT, its population has dramatically rebounded. It was taken off of the Endangered Species List in 2007, and is now abundant throughout most of Alaska, and is common throughout most of the continent.

The main threat to the Bald Eagle now is lead poisoning from prey shot by hunters, and collisions with vehicles, buildings, and radio towers.

Have you seen Bald Eagles in Lake Holiday?

Whether you have or have not, consider joining the Lake Holiday Birding Club for a walk in our community, and who knows what else we may see! If you have any questions on birds and bird identification, or would like to learn more about the Birding Club, email aucupiotyrannus@gmail.com or call 540-514-1607.

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