For the second weekend in a row, I spent Saturday sitting in a kayak while floating down the French Broad River. At the peak of the fall season, the scenery was lovely, with red and yellow and brown leafed trees decorating the river banks and sudden breezes sending colorful leaves spinning through the sky to land and then float gently down the river. At one point, someone in our group spotted a bald eagle soaring in the sea of blue above us and we all stopped to watch, thrilled at this rare sighting.
What is it about the Bald Eagle that inspires such wonder and excitement in most anyone who sees one? How much do you know about this widely recognized bird?
Here are some interesting facts about our national bird–the Bald Eagle:
1. As you may have already guessed from the title, the Bald Eagle builds the largest nest of any North American bird. Usually choosing tall coniferous trees beside water, both the male and female work on the nest, gathering a myriad of materials to use including sticks, grass, moss, cornstalks and feathers. The nests are often reused each year, with the birds adding a new layer to the old one so that sometimes the nests can weigh up to a ton and be more than 9 feet across. The Guinness Book of World Records lists a Bald Eagle nest in the state of Florida as begin the largest. It was 9.5 feet across, 20 feet deep and incredibly, weighed 4,409 pounds!
2. Bald Eagles do not get their characteristic white heads until they are 5 years old. Before this their feathers are a mottled brown, making them harder to recognize. Click HERE to read more about recognizing them from other birds.
3. Bald Eagles mate for life. When one of the pair dies, the other will choose a new mate.
4. Bald Eagles have 7000 feathers!
5. Bald Eagles have an incredible courtship ritual that is likely to make the “bucket lists” of many birders, including myself. Seeing the birds do this live would surely be an amazing moment! The birds lock talons high in the sky and then plummet to the earth in a series of cartwheels until just before they reach ground, when they separate and soar back into the sky. Imagine seeing this! Talk about incredible!
6. In 1782 the Bald Eagle was chosen as the emblem and mascot of the United States. Benjamin Franklin was not happy with this choice, arguing that while the birds look majestic, they harass smaller birds and often steal prey from them. He wanted the Wild Turkey to be the national bird. (If you’d like to read more about the Wild Turkey, Click HERE.)
7. Bald Eagles have a wingspan of 7 feet! They are 34-43 inches long and weigh between 6.5 and 14 pounds. As is true of many other birds of prey, the female Bald Eagle is larger than the male.
8. Found only in North America, Bald Eagles are generally solitary birds though will gather with others at places where there is abundant food, such as in Alaska. Speaking of food, Bald Eagles are carnivores, mainly eating fish. In addition, they will eat smaller birds, eggs, small animal like rabbits, reptiles and amphibians. They have been known to die from trying to haul heavy fish from the water.
9. Bald Eagles have no sense of smell. In the bird world, this is not unusual… you know that myth about a mama bird abandoning her babies because you touched them? Click HERE to find out if that is true!
10. Bald Eagles can live up to 28 years in the wild.