The Bald Eagle is one of the most magnificent creatures on Earth. Its scientific name is Haliaeetus leucocephalus. The Bald Eagle belongs to the family of hawks and eagles. During the first two-thirds of the 20th century, there was a serious decline in the numbers of the eagles. One major cause was shooting, but later the cause of decline was attributed to the effects of pesticides, but since 1970, the numbers have been gradually increasing.
The habitat for the eagles includes coasts, rivers, and large lakes, but during migration, it includes mountains and the open country typically close to water. Specific habitats include the swamps in Florida, edges of conifer forest in southeastern Alaska, islands in Aleutians, and desert rivers in Arizona.
The Bald Eagle is the emblem bird of the United States and is majestic in its appearance but not its habits. The eagle often feeds on carrion, including dead fish washed up on shore. It also steals food from Ospreys and other smaller birds. It is, however, a powerful predator not just a scavenger.
The Bald Eagle seeks opportunities by hunting and watching from a high perch then swooping down to catch a prey in its talons. It also hunts by cruising very low over the seas or land taking prey by surprise. The eagle will wade in shallow water where fish are abundant and pursue them.
Eagles usually produce 1 to 3 eggs and the incubation is by both parents taking 34 to 36 days. At least one parent stays with the young almost constantly for two weeks. The parents bring prey to the nest and tear the food into small pieces before feeding it directly to the young. After about 3 to 6 weeks, though, the young begin pecking at the food the parents drop into the nest. First flight occurs when the young are about 10 to 12 weeks old.
The diet of the Bald Eagle is mostly fish when available, but they will also eat other birds and mammals. They feed heavily on fish in many areas and may include herring, salmon, carp, catfish, and many others. If the fish are scarce they will eat birds such as ducks, coots, auklets, and others or mammals such as jackrabbits, muskrats, and others. The eagles will sometimes eat turtles, crabs, shellfish and other items.
The eagle begins to first breed at age 4 or 5 and may mate for life. The nest site is usually in a tree, on a cliff in the west, or on the ground in northern islands. Tree nests are usually very high off the ground about 180 feet into the air. Nests are built by the male and female and usually include a mound of sticks and lined with finer materials. The nest may be reused and added to for many years. Sometimes, Great Horned Owls take over the abandoned eagle nests.
Bald eagles have a rather wimpy voice for such large, majestic birds. They have a squeaky alarm call used near the nest, and a similar sound is usually uttered with a vertical head toss. They also call while in flight. The 'screaming' sound often associated with the Bald Eagle is actually a red-tailed hawk call.
Finally, eagles from the far northern interior migrate south during the winter, and immatures from Florida may migrate far north or Canada during their first summer. However, many southern and coastal adult Bald Eagles do not migrate and remain permanent residents as far north as the Aleutian Islands.
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