Susan C. Anthony

The eagle that caught our dinnerEagle Encounters

June 17, 2012

Bald eagles nest at the lake every year and find plenty to eat when red salmon arrive to spawn. One nest is on a steep slope. We used to hike up above it with binoculars and check on the chicks as they grew. Grizzlies eat salmon, too, so crashing through brush to check on eagle chicks can be dangerous.

One year in early September, Dennis was in a boat on the lake alone in a heavy rain. He saw two immature bald eagles, one onshore and the other flying with difficulty toward shore, where it crashed into some bushes. Dennis pulled the boat to shore. One eagle hopped away and the other attempted to fly with heavy wet feathers. It didn't get far. It flopped into the lake close to shore and Salmon struck by eaglehad to "swim". It struggled back up on shore just a few feet from Dennis. It hissed like a cornered cat, its 6' wings outstretched, its beak open wide, its eyes flashing danger.

In late June of 2012, while out fishing, Dennis wanted to check and see whether any red salmon had yet arrived. We motored toward the outlet stream. An adult eagle was on shore, hopping around and acting strangely. We slowed and approached. It didn't fly until we were quite close, then only to a nearby tree. The water teemed with fresh salmon, just arrived at the lake. One floated belly up, still alive. We netted it and saw fatal wounds, talon marks.

 

Here are some interesting facts about bald eagles:

  • Bald eagles live only in North America.
  • A mature bald eagle has a wingspan of 6.5 to 8 feet and measures 30-43 inches from the tip of the beak to the tip of the tail.
  • Except for the California condor, the bald eagle is the largest bird of prey in North America, weighing 8-13 pounds.
  • Eagles mate for life but if one dies, the other sometimes finds another mate.
  • Eagles live 20 to 30 years in the wild and even longer in captivity.
  • Eagles have excellent eyesight, about 7 times better than humans. From high in the sky, an eagle can spot prey over a 3-square-mile area.
  • Eagles mate when they are about four years old, but don't get white feathers on their heads until they are five years old. An immature bald eagle is brown and can be mistaken for a golden eagle.
  • Bald eagles use the same nests year after year, adding to them each year. A typical nest is 5' in diameter. The largest nests can be 9' in diameter and weigh two tons. A nest is called an eyrie.
  • Usually two eggs are laid in a nest, but one bird typically hatches first. The smaller bird may not survive.
  • Eaglets are born with their eyes open but without any feathers. Feathers begin to grow when they are 4 weeks old. They leave the nest when they are about 12 weeks old but cannot fly well at first. Their parents continue to feed them until they learn to hunt.
  • Eggs are incubated for about 35 days before hatching.
  • Eagles fly south for the winter, but not far. Many of them go to Homer where a woman named Jean Keene had permission to feed them until she died in 2009. Others migrate to Haines, Alaska, where the waters of the Chilkat River stay open most of the year and there is a late salmon run. Eagles gather there in huge numbers in the winter. As many as 3,000 winter there in close proximity between October and February.
  • The United States chose the bald eagle as its national bird in 1782. Benjamin Franklin wanted the turkey to be selected as the national bird!

Go on to read Big Birds
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