January 2015 Bird Photo of the Month

Bald Eagles switching places © Donald Schuster
Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)

The Bald Eagle, our national symbol of strength and fearlessness, is majestic. The bold white head and tail of adults contrasts with their brown body and seven-foot wings, held flat when soaring. This eagle feeds by swooping down to pluck fish from the surface of lakes or rivers. Its massive yellow feet have three strong front talons to snag a fish from the water, with the fourth rear talon used to puncture and thus kill the prey. Sometimes a marauding pirate, a Bald Eagle will steal fish from other birds, particularly the Osprey. Once, after an eagle’s chase, an Osprey dropped a fish on a town sidewalk, but neither bird pursued the fish among the pedestrians! Did anyone wonder how that fish appeared on the sidewalk? A supreme opportunist, Bald Eagles also eat reptiles, birds and mammals, including carrion.

Bald Eagles have spectacular courtship rituals in which they soar to great heights, lock talons, and tumble/cartwheel to earth, breaking away just before hitting the ground. As with most raptors, the coloration is similar but the female is larger than the male (up to 12 vs. 9 lbs.). Bald Eagles in northern states and Canada are considerably larger than Florida birds, aiding heat conservation and fat storage. Eagles prefer nesting far from human disturbance in tall, secluded, living pine trees in mature forests near their food sources along coastlines, rivers, and lakes. Eagles often add to the nest year after year, building the largest tree nest (up to 13’ x 8’) of any animal. Nest building in Florida begins in October, and incubation, taking about a month, starts two to three months later. In January, using his Canon Camera EOS 7D, f/6.2, 1/500 sec., 600 mm, Don Schuster took this photo of a huge stick nest in open view, just as the parents switched nest-tending duties.

Juanita Baker, Coordinator
Florida Bird Photo of the Month
Pelican Island Audubon Society

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