Since March, 2001, the American Eagle Foundation (AEF) has responded to thousands of E-mail inquiries <EagleMail@Eagles.org> about bald eagles, including the following favorites:
1. Why Are Some Eagles Called Bald eagles? There are 59 species of eagles in the world. Only the Bald and Golden Eagles are found in North America. . Balde was an old English word for white. The English settlers therefore named the “Bald eagle”, meaning “white-headed eagle”. The head feathers of Bald eagles are brown until 4 to 5 years of age, when white feathers gradually replace the brown ones.
2. How did bald eagles become our national symbol? The 2nd Continental Congress selected the Bald eagle as the U.S. National Symbol on June 20, 1782. Benjamin Franklin preferred the wild turkey. Both the Bald eagle and Wild Turkey are true native birds of North America. The majority considered the Bald eagle a better symbol of: power, courage, freedom, loyalty, and spirit.
3. What is the average number of eaglets per nest? Bald eagles lay one to three eggs per year. They hatch after about 35 days of incubation. An average of 1.4 to 1.7 eaglets will grow up to first fly at about 12 weeks age.
4. How can you tell the difference between a male and female bald eagle? Male and female Bald eagles look exactly the same from the outside, except the female is usually larger. .
5. How big and how small can a Bald eagle get? Their wingspread varies from 6 to 8 feet. Male Bald eagles’ weight may range from 6 to 9 pounds, with females’ weights usually 20 to 30 percent greater. Northern eagles tend to be larger. Alaskan females reach up to 15 pounds. Florida males may weigh only 6 pounds.
6. How long does an average Bald eagle live? About 50 percent die during the first year due to their inexperience at meeting the dangers of living in the wild. After their first year, about 90 percent survive each year. The longest that any Bald eagle has been known to live in the wild is 39 years. They may live over 50 years in captivity due to fewer hazards and veterinary care.
7. Do bald eagles soar alone? Bald eagles tend to soar alone, rather than flocking with other eagles. However, they sometimes concentrate in the same place due a plentiful common food source or for shelter from the cold wind.
8. What is the diet of the bald eagle? Fish comprise about 70 to 90 percent of the diet of Bald eagles. However, Bald eagles are opportunist feeders, meaning they will feed on what is most available, and requiring the least amount of energy to acquire it. For example, Bald eagles will often follow the fall migration of ducks and geese and feed on birds that have been injured by hunters. They also can feed on moderately sized wild mammals, such as ground hogs.
9. How do baby eagles learn to fly? Eaglets fly in place over their nest until they feel strong and brave enough to fly for the first time at approximately 12 weeks of age. Winds stimulate the eaglets to exercise to the extent that, where winds are more consistent, they may exercise enough to fly by 10 weeks of age. In the absence of winds, their first flight may be delayed a week or more.
10. How many bald eagles once lived in the United States? The bald eagle once ranged throughout every state in the Union except Hawaii. When America adopted the bird as its national symbol in 1782, as many as 100,000 nesting bald eagles lived in the continental United States, excluding Alaska.
11. How did bald eagles become endangered? After the insecticide DDT was used extensively after the mid 1940’s, bald eagle populations declined substantially. DDT caused the egg shells to become so thin that they would easily break. By 1963, only 417 nesting pairs were found in the lower 48. DDT was banned from use in the United States in 1972 and in Canada in 1973, making it possible for recovery programs to be successful.
12. How has “hacking” helped restore bald eagles? Approximately 15 states have released bald eagles from artificial nests in hack towers in order to restore natural nesting. The principle behind eagle hacking programs is that eagles tend to return within approximately 75 miles of their maiden flights to nest after they reach sexual maturity of 4 to 5 years age.
13. How has the American Eagle Foundation been involved with hacking and release of bald eagles? By the end of 2010, AEF had released a total of 105 young bald eagles from its Douglas Lake, TN hack site. AEF has assisted the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and other partners in the hacking at 5 of 7 hack sites in Tennessee. From 1980 through 2010, a total of 330 bald eagles that have been released in Tennessee, the most hack releases of any state.
14. When was the bald eagle listed as Endangered and Threatened? Bald eagles were listed as Endangered in 43 of the lower 48 states from 1967 until 1995. They were listed as Threatened in all lower 48 states from 1995 until 2007, when there were over 10,000 bald eagle pairs in the lower 48 states. The bald eagle is still listed as Threatened in the Sonora Desert region of Arizona. In 2010 there were over 12,000 bald eagle pairs in the lower U.S.
15. What is the primary law protecting bald eagles? Protection of the Bald eagle and its habitat are now under the jurisdiction of the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (BGEPA). Penalties can be as high as $100,000 for individuals and $200,000 for organizations. Eagles are not allowed to be “disturbed” under the BGEPA, as may be interpreted in the federal, “Bald Eagle Management Guidelines”. Disturb means: “to agitate or bother a bald or golden eagle to a degree that causes, or is likely to cause, based on the best scientific information available, 1) injury to an eagle, 2) a decrease in its productivity, by substantially interfering with normal breeding, feeding, or sheltering behavior, 3) nest abandonment, by substantially interfering with normal breeding, feeding, or sheltering behavior”.
16. Why do bald eagles still need our help? Bald eagles still need protection of their habitat for nesting, feeding and roosting. Their populations are required to be monitored for at least 20 years in order to maintain and enhance their recovery to date. However, after delisting, funds are likely to be much less available for these vital needs.
17. How can bald eagles benefit from Bald Eagle Commemorative Coins? The American Eagle Foundation is designated by Congress to administer funds from the sale of Bald Eagle Commemorative Coins, which were minted and marketed by the U.S. Mint in 2008. Of the $7.8 million generated from these sales, AEF placed $5.8 million in an perpetual endowment fund, called the American Eagle Fund. This Fund has grown sufficiently for AEF to begin receipt of grant applications in 2011 for nationwide Bald Eagle conservation and education projects beginning in 2012 (see www.eagles.org).
by Bob Hatcher, Blog Editor and AEF Eagle Correspondent