The Bald Eagle was pronounced the national emblem of the United States in 1782. Whilst bald eagles were once a prominent species found only in North America, populations have plummeted. Fortunately, in 1007 the Bald Eagle was taken off the list of endangered species after a staggering 40 years! They have begun to recolonize Long Island and there have been increased sightings over the past few years; nesting pairs have been found on Gardiners Island and Shelter Island.
Here’s what to look for when identifying a bald eagle: a white head and neck (obtained at about 5 years of age), blackish-brown chest, yellow bill, legs and feet, a white tail and broad wings spanning up to 90 inches. Despite their sizable wingspan and great stature, these birds weigh between 6-13 lbs. A bald eagle skeleton, which is comprised of hollow bones, weights about 1/2 pound; and 7000 feathers of a bald eagle weight up to twice that! Bald eagles have the power to lift up to 4 pounds; therefore they do not usually feed on large prey. Their main food source is fish, but then often scavenge on carrion or even food that they have stolen from other predators. Had Benjamin Franklin prevailed, our national emblem would have the Wild Turkey! Due to the eagles behavior Franklin wrote, “I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a bird of bad moral character”; however, to most Americans, eagles symbolize freedom and strength.
Since the balk eagle sits atop the food chain, this species is highly vulnerable to toxic chemicals in the environment; DDT was the most predominant and has been banned for use in the U.S. as of 1972. Fortunately, several protection laws have prohibited the hunting of bald eagles, as well as possession of feathers, nests, eggs and other eagle parts. Habitat destruction is a crises many animals are facing. We can resolve this damage by conserving wildlife and wild places. We are fortunate this in our lifetime we will witness a comeback of a species right here in our own backyard on Long Island.
Bald Eagles nest in forest habitat adjacent to bodies of water. The mate for life and are early nesters, laying eggs as early as late February. Nesting selection is a large task, having to find a tree suitable to old a 6 foot next weighting around 1 ton.
At Quogue Wildlife Refuge, we have a resident Bald Eagle that has lived in the Outdoor Wildlife Complex since 1988. He had sustained a gunshot wound to his right wing which had to be amputated due to the injury. The Refuge is his permanent home due to his inability to fly. A bald eagle’s life span is 20-30 years in the wild, and up to 50 years in captivity.
by Renee Allen