Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ringed with the azure world, he stands.
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.-Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Capturing an image of a bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) has been on my “bucket list” since I moved to Boulder 5 years ago. I’ve never lived in eagle territory before this and this bird is iconic for anyone living in the US. Now that it is winter here in Colorado and there is no foliage they are easier to find in the trees. I’ve seen several brief glimpses of this bird of prey but up until now I’ve never really seen one up close in and “in the feather”. I’ve ben obsessed for the past few weeks and finally my trudging though mud and snow with my telephoto lens has paid off. Here are my results…
The bald eagle is heavy with religious and cultural symbolism. It is the US national symbol and has an important role in Native American culture where the bald eagle as well as the golden eagle are thought be sacred. Despite our cultural reverence here in North America we nearly hunted and poisoned it into extinction.
My interest in this majestic raptor is twofold: It is a magnificent example of evolution and adaptation (having risen to the top of the food chain) and it is a testimonial to our ability as a society to change our ways and protect a piece of the environment that we almost destroyed. The 1972 ban of DDT was a pretty gutsy thing to do and kept this bird from disppearing in North America. Unsurprisingly Fox News denies the well established link beteen the decline of Bald Eagles and DDT now that their population is recovering. It would be ironic if the bald eagle out-survives humans after we botch up our climate.
Here are some bald eagle facts:
-The word “bald” originally meant “white-headed.” The scientific name, Haliaeetus leucocephalus, means “white-headed sea eagle” in Latin.
-The species was on the brink of extinction in the continental United States (while flourishing in much of Alaska and Canada) late in the 20th century, but now has a stable population.
-The Bald Eagle prefers habitats near seacoasts, rivers, large lakes, oceans, and other large bodies of open water with an abundance of fish.
-The Bald Eagle is extremely sensitive to human activity, and is found most commonly in areas free of human disturbance.
-The Bald Eagle’s natural range covers most of North America, including most of Canada, all of the continental United States, and northern Mexico.
-The Bald Eagle is a powerful flier, and soars on thermal convection currents. It reaches speeds of 56–70 kilometers per hour (35–43 mph) when gliding and flapping, and about 48 kilometers per hour (30 mph) while carrying fish.Its dive speed is between 120–160 kilometres per hour (75–99 mph).
-The bald eagle’s eyesight is five to six times sharper than a human’s.
-Although the life expectancy of wild eagles may be 30 years, some have lived 50 years in captivity.
-It is thought that Bald Eagles mate for life. However, if one member of a pair dies or disappears, the other will choose a new mate. A pair which has repeatedly failed in breeding attempts may split and look for new mates.
-During courtship bald eagles engage in spectacular flight displays. In the Cartwheel Display, a courting pair flies to high altitude, locks feet together, and then tumbles and cartwheels toward the ground, breaking off at the last moment
-The nest is the largest of any bird in North America; it is used repeatedly over many years and with new material added each year may eventually be as large as 4 metres (13 ft) deep, 2.5 metres (8.2 ft) across.