On the Wings of Eagles

| 4/12/2016 8:44:00 AM

Country MoonThe American bald eagle has always been a symbol of strength and patriotism. Yet, this grand bird with its snowy feathered head and white tail was nearly extinct just a few short years ago.

I remember when the first one in our area was spotted a few years ago near the small town of Colon, Michigan, not far from where I live. The pair of bald eagles had built a nest atop a tree just on the outskirts of town and a couple passing motorists spotted it. For weeks after that, cars were lined up as far down the road as you could see to get a glimpse of this pair of magnificent birds. As one car would finish watching, it would move on and another would drive up, much to the dismay of the local farmers after this went on day after day.

The bald eagle is the only one of its species that is unique to North America. During the 1700’s the population was somewhere between 300,000 to 500,000. However, that number dwindled to less than 450 nesting pairs in the early 1960’s.This was largely due to habitat destruction, illegal shooting and contamination of the food supply, namely the concentration of the chemical DDT which has since been banned. Eagles are at the top of the food chain which makes them more susceptible to toxic chemicals in the environment since each link in the chain has a higher concentration of chemicals from eating the links below it.

The number of adult nesting pairs increased to more than 4500 in the 1990’s which helped prompt the Department of the Interior to take them off the endangered list on June 28, 2007. However, they will still be protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

Nearly half of the world’s 700,000 bald eagle population live in Alaska, with 20,000 more residing nearby in British Columbia. Since dead or dying fish are an important food source to them, they flourish here because of the salmon.

The term “bald eagle” is really a misnomer on more than one level. Their heads are not really bald, but rather are covered in white feathers. Also, even if they are referred to as bald, they are not “bald” until they reach the age of five. Young eagles have mixed white and brown feathers and the adult plumage does not develop until they become sexually active. Thus, it takes 5 years for them to attain their pure white head and tail feathers.