Of all the birds that I photograph the one that always takes my breath away whenever see it is the Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus).
For the last several years I have been monitoring a nesting pair of Bald Eagles that have taken up residence not far from where I live. I’ve been fortunate to see them raise 3 eaglets and (fingers crossed) they will successfully raise the two eaglets that are in the nest as of this writing. As breathtaking as it is to see an adult Bald Eagle it is immensely gratifying to see a juvenile that has fledged the nest.
Last year I was able to get a shot of the male of the pair in flight and noticed that he had a band on his leg. I blew the photo up as large as I could and could just make out the markings on the band. After spending some time searching the web I came across the Center for Conservation Biology and found some information on what the different band colors used on bald eagles. A few more emails and I made contact with the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife in Massachusetts and they took my images and blew them up enough to see the actual numbers on the band. A few days later I got an email from them and learned that this bald eagle was banded on May 15, 2013 in Massachusetts and was one of two in that particular nest. They originally thought he may be a female but I have been able to deduce by way of watching his behavior relative to his mate in and around the nest that is the male of the couple.
Bald Eagles eat mostly fish when it is available and when it’s not they will eat birds such as ducks and coots and mammals such as rabbits and muskrats. It may also sometime eat turtles, crabs and shellfish and will also feed on carrion. They begin breeding at 4 or 5 years and may mate for life returning again and again to the same nest which become huge and can measure 5 to 6 feet in diameter and 2 to 4 feet tall. They lay 1-3 eggs and both parents tend o the young remaining with them almost constantly for the first 2 weeks. The young take their first flight at 10-12 weeks.
During much of the 20th century the bald eagle was in serious decline due to being the victim of trapping, shooting, and poisoning as well as pesticide-caused reproductive failures. In 1978 it was listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act and thanks to that and the banning of DDT which was it’s main pesticide threat the Bald Eagle has made a remarkable comeback. It was removed from the engdangered list in 2007 however it continues to face threats from lead poisining from ammunition in hunter shot prey, collisions with motor vehicles and stationary structures, and development-related destruction of shoreline nesting, perching, roosting and foraging habitats. They are still vulnerable to environmental pollution, as evidenced by the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska. An estimated 247 Bald Eagles died from oil exposure. Population levels in the Sound decreased by almost four percent the following year. The local population returned to pre-spill levels by 1995. Partners in Flight estimates their global breeding population at 250,000 with 88% spending some part of the year in the U.S., 31% in Canada and 8% in Mexico. At this point they rate 9 out of 20 on the Contintental Concern Score and are not on the 2016 State of North America’s Birds’ Watch List, but are a U.S.-Canada Stewardship Species.