The Bald eagle is the most recognisable and magnificent bird that is native and exclusive in Northern America. It occupies most parts of the Continent from the northern reaches of Alaska and Canada down to northern Mexico.The Bald eagle has been removed from the U.S. Endangered Species list, due to rigorous conservation efforts. It is also referred to as Washington eagle, the American eagle, black eagle, white-headed eagle, and white-headed sea eagle (Hempstead, 2006).
They are large predatory raptors. They are dark brown on the body and wings. The head and tail are bright white. The feet and bill of bald eagles are yellow. The bill is large and hooked at the tip. It is the only unique eagle in North America. Juvenile bald eagles look quite different from adults. Young bald eagles are almost entirely brown with occasional white markings on the underside of wings and chest. As the juvenile gets older, the bill will turn from the dark brownish-black to yellow, and the head and tail turn white.
Bald eagles occur from Baja California and Florida north to Newfoundland and Alaska. Within this area, they are nearly found near water, along rivers, lakes or the seacoast and coastal marshes, reservoirs and large lakes. They pass over mountains and plains during the migration. The northern and interior populations may migrate to open water in the winter of March. (Hicks, 2006)
How Bald Eagle Got Its Name and the Reason Behind It
The Bald eagle was chosen as the national symbol of the United States in 1972, because it stood for strength, courage and freedom. The Bald eagle is not bald. However, it actually has white feathers on its head, neck and tail. The word bald is a derivation of “balde”, an old English word meaning white. The bird was named for its white feathers instead of a lack of feathers.
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Normally, Bald eagles live for 30 years or even longer in the wild surrounding, and longer in captivity. They find partners for life and build large nests on the top of large trees near lakes, rivers, estuaries or other open water. Moreover, nests are often used once again year after year.
Wingspan and Measurements
Generally, male Bald eagles measure three feet in their heights, weigh eight to 12 pounds These birds have a wingspan of 6.5 feet. Female birds are larger, some are reaching 14 pounds. The wingspan of females is 8 feet. These carnivorous birds have large pale eyes; great, black talons, and a powerful yellow beak. The distinctive white tail and head feathers appear only after 4 or5 years (Kenney, 2011).
How to Identify a Bald Eagle
Bald eagles are normally identified by their blackish-brown back and breast, a white head, neck and tail, and yellow beak and feet. Juvenile bald eagles are a mixture of brown and white; with a black beak in young birds. The adult plumage develops when they are sexually mature. It takes about five years for their head and tail feathers to gradually turn white.
Feeding Habits, Foraging
Just like all sea eagles, the primary source of food for them is fish. They can also feed on dead and rotting animals, birds, small mammals and reptiles. During winter, such northern birds are migrating southwards and locate in large quantity near open water areas, where there are fish in plenty
Mating and Breeding, Nesting and Young
Once paired, bald eagle remains together for life. However, if one dies, the survivor will not hesitate to accept a new mate. Southern birds may begin courtship and nesting activity in the late fall of the early winter, while it is more common for northern birds to court and nest in early spring. Copulation happens on branches or other perches, and is preceded by the wing flapping and tail pumping displayed by the male. Normally, Bald eagles lay 2-3eggs once a year. Eggs hatch in 35 days.
Young eagles fly in 3 months after they are born and are on their own in a month after birth. Nevertheless, bad weather, lack of food, human interference and diseases can cause deaths of many birds. Fewer than half of eaglets usually survive their first year of life. (Pearl, 2007)
Population and Regional Comparison
With hacking and some other recovery methods, along with the banning of DDT and the habitat improvement, bald eagle population is steadily increased. There are now nearly 4500 grown up bald eagle pairs and unknown pair of young and sub adults in United States. In Georgia, there was no known nesting through most of the 1970s, but since that time the population has increased steadily to eighty three known nesting pairs in the year 2004.
Bold eagles have few natural enemies, though males are sometimes morally injured during territorial disputes. Generally, they need tall, mature trees in which to construct their large nest and clean waters where they can find food. Though they seem to like an environment of isolation, in recent years, a lot of bald eagles demonstrated a remarkable tolerance of human activities and are thriving in the face of development that has affected so much of their habitat.
Bald eagle migration suggests that there are different patterns of migration depending on where eagles have spent their summer. Eagles usually stay near their nesting territory, as the supply of food and weather conditions will allow. Sub adult eagles that have not yet made a breeding territory are believed to wander more. Once a bald eagle migrates on the south, it always goes to the same placew and when it returns north. It means that bald eagles do not change their territory ever (Dell, 2003). Migrating eagles travel at the average speed of 30 mph. They ride on animals and can circle in a strong thermal to high altitude, which allows them to glide along distances. They do this in the direction of migration until they find another column of rising air. (Hicks, 2006)
Causes for the Decline in Bald Eagle Population
From the 1940s to the 1960s, the greatest danger to the existence of Bald eagles arose from the use of pesticides, namely DDT. DDT was sprayed on croplands within the country. Its residues washed into streams and lakes. This chemical got into lakes and then was absorbed by small animals which were con by fish. These fish were in turn consumed by bald eagles. Gradually, this built up quite dangerous levels pesticides. DDT was interfering with Bald eagle’s ability of developing strong egg shells. As an outcome, bald eagles start laying eggs with thin shells so that they often broke during the incubation or failed to hatch. Their reproduction was disrupted, bald eagle population plummeted. Young inexperience bald headed eagle also felt victims of human activities, through various methods, such execution by shipmen through the use of poison, shotguns, traps and airplanes. Other bald eagle population was affected by invisible pressures exerted by crowding, noise and environmental pollutions. (Dell, 2003)
When the Bald Eagle was Added to the Endangered Species List
In the year 1782, bald head eagle was adapted as the national symbol, and since that time, its population has suffered from a number of factors, such as intentional persecution and the degradation of its habitat. In 1940, it was noted that the national bird was “threatened with extinction”; the congress passed the Bald Eagle Protection Act, which made it illegal to kill, harass, possess without a permit, or sell the Bald eagle. In 1967, officially, bald eagles were declared to be endangered species under the Act of Endangered Species Preservation, which was a law that preceded the Endangered Species Act (EAS) of 1973. This designation applied to all bald eagles in areas of the United States.
Human activities, such as logging, oil exploration, mining and recreational activities immensely led the decline of bald eagle. However, these impacts vary depending on some factors; for example, adult bald eagles are more tolerant to human disturbance than eaglets. However, thanks to restriction and its listing in the endangered species list, its population as now increased. (Pearl, 2007)
Impact of Social Cultural and Environment Changes
Increasing human population increased demand for more lands and fields for the settlement. Huge trees were cut, which brought about the destruction and disturbance of bald eagle nesting, therefore, reducing its production greatly. Bald eagles are unique in that wherever they spot human being near their nests, they will abandon it even if there already have eaglets in them. It is, of course, a main reason for eaglet deaths. As people settled down, activities, such hunting was intensified and many Bald eagles were killed through shooting and physical disturbance by hunters.
As farming activities were intensified, use of pesticide was necessary for control of pests. Common types of pesticides used were DDT; this was later washed into seas and lakes, where fish consumed them. When the Bald eagle eats this fish for food, it immensely affects their development of eggs, in they began laying eggs with quite thin shell that are not strong enough to sustain eaglets until maturity, thus, reducing their reproduction rate. (Hicks, 2006)
Conservation and Education
The government organized various techniques to educate people on the importance of conserving this endangered species. Conservation syllabuses were introduced in various school programs. Enough funding and provision of enough facilities was also done to boost conservation efforts. Some various exhibitions and seminars were also held and people thought of various ways and methods of conservation. To generally increase the total population of Bald eagles, the process known “hacking” was conducted, which was a procedure adapted from the sport of falcony, where at eight weeks of age, nestling eaglets which were obtained from breeding captive facilities or from wild nests were placed on man-made towers located in the remote areas of suitable habitat. Eaglets were kept in an enclosure, and fed by biologists who stayed out of sight. When birds were capable of flight, at about 12 weeks old they were left to fly. This was carefully done to avoid the juvenile bald eagle associating people with food or loosing fear of the people. With these techniques, bald eagle population was restored. (Pearl, 2007)
Conservation Projects and Methods Used to Repopulate the Bald Eagles
Federal government bans the use of DDT and illegal shooting of the Bald eagle. Various conservation efforts taken by American public immensely restored the Bald eagle population. In August 2007, bald eagle was removed from the list of endangered species, because its population recovered sufficiently. Bald and Golden eagles are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) and the Eagle Act (Eagle Act)
In conclusion, it is clearly seen that human disturbance have immensely interfered with the reproductive behavior, especially nesting territory selection and occupancy, of the Bald eagle in California. Problems, such as recreational demands, illegal shooting and excessive human inference at nesting territories are all involved. When all these activities are combined, it causes a main threat to the remaining bald eagle population, which is already endangered.
There appears to be a decreasing number of Bald eagle pairs present in historical territories. Currently, the reduction in the number of pairs appears to be related to human disturbance. As long as the present level of recreational activities and other economic uses are placed on, lakes and various rivers’ main competition among Bald eagles will exist. The outcome of this competition will be the elimination of nesting bald eagles in the near future, unless careful economic, social and personal sacrifices are made. (Hicks, 2006)
It is recommended that all known bald nests be given the intensive protection from human intrusive activities, by the appropriate state and federal agencies. Every year, efforts are to be made to assess the reproductive success of all known nests, and attempt to identify new nesting territories. A study should also be carried out to ascertain the possibility of pesticide contamination in Bald eagles nesting. Policies should also be out in place, regarding commercial logging activities, as the effect of removing trees near Bald eagles can be disastrous. Efforts should also be done to identify Bald eagle nests in private lands and to encourage owners to keep and protect them, to reduce illegal shooting of all Bald eagles through increasing public awareness campaign. Artificial manipulations of food supply to enhance the prey availability should also be considered.
The Bald eagle has been the national emblem of the United States since 1782, and a spiritual symbol of native people for far longer than that. These regal birds are not actually bald, but their white-feathered heads and brown body gave them their name. It has been under threat of extinction, but due to vigorous conservation effort, its population is now steady, and it has now been removed from endangered species’ list.
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