Are you looking for someone to present an eagle or bird of prey program to your group? The American Eagle Foundation (AEF) maintains a listing of qualified presenters who can provide informative programs in an entertaining way. The State listings provide contact information and a description of program(s) available by each presenter. Click on National Eagle Speakers Bureau or otherwise access in AEF’s “Educational Resources” section at http://www.eagles.org/programs/educational-resources.php. If you need more information for your state, you may contact your State Wildlife Diversity Coordinator for guidance.
During the first year of a bald eagle’s life, its feathers go through a series of feather molts and color changes. Silky down feathers at its hatching are gradually replaced by stronger flight feathers by the time they can first fly at about 12 weeks age. Each year after that, they gradually molt and replace all their feathers each year. Their feathers are primarily brown during their juvenile years of 1 – 3 years age. The brown head and tail feathers are replaced by white feathers when they reach sexual maturity at 4 – 5 years age.
See the archived 2008 Live Eagle Nest Cam of the American Eagle Foundation to see pictures of eaglets from day one to six weeks age.
More details concerning Bald Eagle feathers and molting are provided below:
“Bald Eagle Plumages”, from Life Histories of North American Birds of Prey, by Authur Cleveland Bent. When first hatched the downy young eaglet is completely covered with long, thick, silky down, longest on the head; it is “smoke gray” on the back, pale gray on the head and under parts, and nearly white on the throat. When the young bird is about three weeks old this light gray or whitish down is pushed out and replaced by short, woolly, thick down of a dark, sooty-gray color, “hair brown” to “drab.” The plumage begins to appear on the body and wings, scattered brownish-black feathers showing on the scapulars, back, and sides of the breast, when about five or six weeks old; at this age the wing quills are breaking their sheaths. At the age of seven or eight weeks the eaglet is fairly well feathered, with only a little down showing between the feather tracks, and the flight feathers are fully half grown. In fresh juvenal plumage the young eagle is uniformly dark colored “bone brown” to “clove brown” above and below; the flight feathers are nearly black, but there is usually a slight sprinkling of grayish white in the tail. This plumage is worn throughout the first year without much change, except by wear and fading, the under parts fading to “hair brown.” After the first annual molt, the next summer, the plumage becomes paler and much mixed with white in very variable amounts. Individual feathers on the back, scapulars, and breast are more or less extensively white, those of the breast and belly being largely white in some specimens. I am not sure whether this is a second or third year plumage, or both; if the latter, the third year is whiter than the second. The tail is more extensively mottled with white than in the first year, and the feathers of the crown and occiput are broadly tipped with pale buff. After the next annual molt the plumage of the body becomes darker, much like that of the adult, but lightly tipped with white below and mottled with white on the rump and upper tail coverts; the latter and the tail are now quite extensively white; the head is mixed with white above, about half white and half brown, and nearly clear, dirty white below. This is probably the third year plumage. At the next annual molt, early in the fourth year, the bird assumes a plumage that is practically adult, with a pure-white head and tail; but usually remaining signs of immaturity are seen, such as a few brown feathers in the head and some dusky mottling near the tip of the tail. The length of time required to assume the fully adult plumage does not seem to have been positively determined, and it may take longer than I have estimated. Adults and immature birds have one complete annual molt, which is very gradual, and prolonged through spring, summer, and fall. The flight feathers are molted mainly during July, August, and September.”
The bald eagle was chosen June 20, 1782 as the emblem of the United States of America, because of its long life, great strength and majestic looks, and also because it existed only in North America. The Bald Eagle is thus a symbol of pride in our country. The Bald Eagle helps maintain a sense of patriotism in our country.
Eagles around the world are also symbolic of many high cultural values. Eagles are mentioned at least 30 times in the Bible, mostly as symbols of high values, such as “Rise up, as if on the wings of eagles”.
Northern State University of Aberdeen, SD provided the following report on the value of eagles:
“The feathers of golden and bald eagles are sacred to American Indians as symbols of God and the values the people hold toward nature and humanity. Because eagles represent power and strength, their feathers adorned the clothes of great Lakota and Dakota leaders with each feather representing a courageous deed. People are presented with eagle feathers in recognition of actions that bring benefit or honor to the Lakota people. The Lakota and Dakota people believe that eagle feathers possess spirit and power and are the closest connection people can have to God. The eagle is honored in an eagle dance performed by men wearing eagle feathers in their hair and carrying fans made from eagle tail feathers. This dance is still performed at many powwows today. Whistles made from the bones of eagles are used in the Sun Dance, the most sacred ceremony of the Lakota and Dakota people. As the national symbol of the United States, the bald eagle is of immeasurable value as an example of our American heritage.”
Conservation of the bald eagle serves as a reminder of the success people can have in saving endangered species.”
Viewing of Bald Eagles contributes strongly to the economy in many states. According to the National Survey of Wildlife Related Recreation for 2006, 20 million people took trips away from their homes during 2006 to observe and photograph wild birds. Total wildlife viewing expenditures were $45.7 BILLION. Birds provide about 88% of the wildlife viewing in the U.S. Eagles are the most valued viewable bird species, as evidenced by the large number of eagle festivals, featuring eagle viewing and educational programs (see “Eagle Festivals and Events” in the “Educational Resources” section within the American Eagle Foundation’s web site, www.eagles.org.
Bald Eagles serve as a valuable indicator on the health of the environment, as indicated by the following quote from a Maine conservation group:
“Some people value what bald eagles embody as a symbol, others value their role as an indicator of environmental health. As a top-level predator living off several different levels of the food chain, eagles are in fact the most vulnerable part of the natural system. If the most vulnerable part of the system blinks out, we have to wonder what else is at risk. If we pay attention to these animals that serve as indicators of the health of our environment, we can judge how stable the system is for all of us, that system of which we are a part.”
by Bob Hatcher, Blog Editor and AEF Eagle Correspondent
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
Bald Eagles have an interesting life history, from the time the eggs are laid until the time they are fledgling from their nest, finding food to survive, mating, starting the life cycle all over again.
–Bob Hatcher, editor
On June 20, 1782, the Second Continental Congress established the Bald Eagle as our National Symbol. The Bald Eagle was chosen to represent this country for its: virtue, purity, innocence, power, bravery, justice, and perseverance. Benjamin Franklin had preferred the wild turkey, but the majority prevailed, selecting the Bald Eagle instead.
When Apollo 11 first landed Americans on the moon on July 16, 1969, astronaut Neil Armstrong’s first words as he stepped onto the moon’s surface was, “The Eagle has landed”. Do you think that sounded better than, “The Turkey has landed”?
To learn more about eagle symbolism, including “Symbols on the Great Seal of the United States”, visit the “Educational Resources” section of the American Eagle Foundation web site, http://www.eagles.org.–Bob Hatcher, editor
In Tennessee, eagles in the wild typically start laying eggs Feb. 15 – 28. Our eagles at the American Eagle Foundation lay eggs about a month later. A flurry of nest-building activities precede egg laying – and then we anxiously await the laying of eggs and wait some more to determine if the eggs are fertile. To see an archived version of our eagle cam at the American Eagle Foundation, follow this link.
In order to learn more about bald eagle nesting activities click on “National Bald Eagle Management Guidelines” by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. You will find interesting and informative sections on:
- Where do Bald Eagles nest? page 4
- When do Bald Eagles nest? page 5
- Chronology of nesting activities in various parts of the U.S. page 6
- How many chicks do bald eagles raise? page 7
- What do bald eagles eat? page 7
- Impacts of human activity on nesting, foraging and roosting bald eagles. pp 7 – 8
- Recommendations for avoiding disturbance of nest sites. pp 9 – 10
- Alternate nests. page 11