Photographed in Waller County at Crampitts Farm, my thanks to Loyd Dalton for taking me to see these magnificent animals.
The Bald Eagle has been the national emblem of the United States since 1782 and a spiritual symbol for native people for far longer than that. These regal birds aren’t really bald, but their white-feathered heads gleam in contrast to their chocolate-brown body and wings. Look for them soaring in solitude, chasing other birds for their food, or gathering by the hundreds in winter. Once endangered by hunting and pesticides, Bald Eagles have flourished under protection.
Rather than do their own fishing, Bald Eagles often go after other creatures’ catches. A Bald Eagle will harass a hunting Osprey until the smaller raptor drops its prey in midair, where the eagle swoops it up. A Bald Eagle may even snatch a fish directly out of an Osprey’s talons. Fishing mammals (even people sometimes) can also lose prey to Bald Eagle piracy. See an example here.
Had Benjamin Franklin prevailed, the U.S. emblem might have been the Wild Turkey. In 1784, Franklin disparaged the national bird’s thieving tendencies and its vulnerability to harassment by small birds. "For my own part,” he wrote, “I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly. … Besides he is a rank Coward: The little King Bird not bigger than a Sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the District.”
Sometimes even the national bird has to cut loose. Bald Eagles have been known to play with plastic bottles and other objects pressed into service as toys. One observer witnessed six Bald Eagles passing sticks to each other in midair.
The largest Bald Eagle nest on record, in St. Petersburg, Florida, was 2.9 meters in diameter and 6.1 meters tall. Another famous nest—in Vermilion, Ohio—was shaped like a wine glass and weighed almost two metric tons. It was used for 34 years until the tree blew down.
Immature Bald Eagles spend the first four years of their lives in nomadic exploration of vast territories and can fly hundreds of miles per day. Some young birds from Florida have wandered north as far as Michigan, and birds from California have reached Alaska.
Bald Eagles occasionally hunt cooperatively, with one individual flushing prey towards another.
Bald Eagles can live a long time. The oldest recorded bird in the wild was at least 38 years old when it was hit and killed by a car in New York in 2015. It had been banded in the same state in 1977.
The Bald Eagle has made a fantastic comeback here in Texas. There were dozens of nesting pairs whereas there were none.
I am so glad our founders picked the Bald Eagle as our nation's symbol instead of Ben Franklin's suggestion, the Wild Turkey.
This photo was taken at the Smith Point Hawk Watch tower last Sept (2019) as hundreds of hawks whizzed by us.