Back With A Vengeance: The American Bald Eagle
Vengeance Is Mine - Don't Tread On Me
Eagle and Turkey Vulture Update March 17, 2014
So far, Freedom and Liberty are still in Davenport iowa and their eggs have not yet hatched. The couple will remain with their nest until the eggs hatch and the eaglets grow and learn how to fly. At that point, probably near May, they will all fly North for the summer.
IN THE MEANTIME, it looks as if the turkey vultures have arrived early! I counted 47 of them circling an area in Rock Island. I am glad they were not circling me. Also of note, Hawks seem to be a little more active now, perhaps this due to the snow melting and small critters starting to pop up. I saw a few black squirrels doing their Shenanigans yesterday. Haven't seen any squirrels in several months. Maybe that's why the hawks are getting restless!
Dam Eagle at the Lock and Dam
They are big and bold
Where they are distributed
Not Really Bald, Are They?
On Eagle's Tales
Back With A Vengeance: The American Bald Eagle
Our national bird, the one that symbolizes America and what she stands for, the American Bald Eagle, was once a disappearing species and on the endangered species list. Through conservation, legal protections and the aid of nature, she has multiplied, no longer endangered and back with a vengeance. God Bless America!
For the longest time, however, the bald eagle was a disappearing species. Remember watching the old National Geographic episodes about eagles? We had the impression that they all lived high up in the mountains and food was scarce and they were dying out. We were given the impression that they were restricted mostly to the mountain states and Canada.
I remember seeing an episode on how an eagle struggled to carry food so high up to the mountain and if she couldn’t, then the babies would starve. We never saw any eagles in zoos and relied mostly on photos from text books and old film footage. Sadly, the eagle was about gone. Even sadder was that this bird represented America and perhaps it was a foreshadowing of what was to happen to our country. Perhaps, the U. S. two is slowly dying out.
Well, America had other plans, and with the grace of God, this beautiful is multiplying and appearing faster than a bat out of hell. The eagle, although it is still a protected species, is no longer on the endangered list. So fish, look out! You are could be an eagle’s next dinner!
Again, I never knew much more about them, let alone ever see a real live eagle. As of this writing, I have seen HUNDREDS of real live American bald eagles. My first encounter with eagles happened in 2103. I’m driving through the Quad Cities and crossing over the I-74 Bridge over the Mississippi River into Iowa. I got off at the first exit by mistake and drove up a road alongside the river. Just minding my own business and briefly glancing to my left and what do I see? I see this big bird fly from the river over my car and into the trees on my right. Strange, at first, I thought. What could this be?
Then another one flew from the water and up he went in the direction my car was going. Stopping at the red light I saw it. The black body with a white head. The white head is dead giveaway. It’s the bald eagle. (I also saw speckled black and gray birds about the same size as the eagle. Well, I learned, too, that the young eagles are often mistaken for huge hawks). The babies don’t get their trademark color until about four or five years.
Just the Facts, Ma’am
Well, I have been watching the eagles ever since and whenever I got the chance. They are much easier to spot in the morning than later in the afternoon. Because of my new fascination with these huge birds I needed to get some facts. The first fact I learned was that they are no longer on the endangered species list, and that they are in abundance.
They love to eat fish and when the rivers are frozen up north, they fly further down south to open waters on rivers such as the Mighty Mississippi, the Rock River, the Cedar River, and Illinois River. The winter also coincides with their breeding season. Most eagles lay and hatch their eggs in the Midwest than any where else.
Another interesting tidbit is that even if you can’t see the white of their head, you can tell if the big bird is an eagle by its wing position whilst gliding. If the wings are level when gliding or descending, the bird is an eagle. If the wing is V-shaped, however, it’s a turkey vulture (more about these guys further down!)
Another interesting fact is that the ale and female stay together like husband and wife. They take turns warming the egg, and when they have the chicks hatch, they take turns feeding the chicks. Both parents make sure the babies eat first before they do.
Here’s a quick list of facts to help you learn more about these respected birds of prey:
- Bald eagles' wingspan is up to about 7 feet.
- They are the second largest bird in North America. (#1 is the creepy-looking California condor.)
- Although they are called bald, that’s a misnomer. The “bald” refers to their white-feathered head. Don’t call them bald-headed as they do take offense.
- Young chicks, called bald eaglets, leave their nest at about 12 weeks old.
- All bald eagles are monogamous and the couples mate for life. It’s a beautiful thing.
- Bald eagles live quite a long time, approximately 28 -30 years in the wild.
- “Eagle Eye”. These birds have sharp vision and the frontal setting of their eyes gives them excellent binocular vision as well as peripheral vision. They can see through the glare on the water to easily spot fish swimming near the surface.
- “Fly like an eagle”. They fly fast, (I know first hand which I’ll describe below.) They go about 35 miles per hour at regular speed and when diving go between 75 to 99 mph.
- Eagles love fish, first and foremost. They eat other things just like humans. Sometimes they will eat turtles, rabbits and squirrels. They don’t normally eat carrion but I’ve witnessed them picking at fresh road kill – a deer, of course.
- Bald Eagles are unique to North America, see map.
- These thriving birds breed in Alaska, Canada, the Pacific Northwest, along the East Coast, the Mississippi River – especially the Quad Cities and Arsenal Island, and around the Great Lakes but no where near Chicago/Gary or Toledo.
- In 1967, the bald eagle was placed on the Endangered Species List. Supposedly, there were only 417 nesting pairs in existence. In 2007, they were removed from list. Yay!
A Brutal Winter
Global Warming has caused the Earth to freeze over this winter. Well, I like to just say it’s Mother Nature doing her thing. A consequence of this brutal winter has caused the eagles to fly a little further south than normal for breeding. The Mississippi river was frozen from Dubuque, Iowa and north to Minnesota so the eagle needed a place of running water and fresh fish. Their beaks aren’t made for drilling holes in the ice to go ice fishing so even more of the birds flew to the Quad Cities area – LeClaire, Moline, Rock Island, Davenport, Bettendorf, and the Arsenal Island.
Their favorite spot is at the Lock and Dam #15. While the river freezes over, there were open spots owhere the fish congregate. And where the fish congregate, the eagles make their meal plans.
All of January and February 2014 you could see many, many eagles. Not only can you see the eagles who return to the Quads on a yearly basis, but also those forced to leave their proposed homes in Dubuque and northerly areas. Drive on a road on either side of the Mississippi river, or even the Rock River and you see them flying overhead.
“Look, is that an eagle?” The answer is almost always a resounding “YES!” Crossing over the bridges you see them scooping fish at water level and taking dives. Looking in the trees, you them perched! Some of the trees are a merely 25 feet high and you can see a bald eagle as plain as day, just sitting there, with his white head, thinking about lunch and another day at work.
My Own Hitchcock Film
I decided, in my wisdom, one early morning at the end of February, to go down to the Riverbend Area and take some pictures of eagles for this hub. I forgot my camera but I had my trusty camera phone. There was too much snow so there was no spot for me to park so I tried to take pictures of eagles perched in trees while I was driving. I counted about 32 of them that morning. Too dangerous while driving, but still in awe of their size and beauty, I decided to drive down to the Lock and Dam. I was able to park the car and walk about a block and a half to the shoreline to start taking pictures.
There they were, circling around, gliding, diving and ascending and basically minding their own business. Wow! As I held up my camera phone an eagle spotted me and made his way towards me, then circled back. A warning, perhaps? I'm a brave kid - I needed to get a closer picture of these guys, so I tried to get a better view by standing on a mound. I held up my camera phone high and tried to capture a moment.1
Yikes! Here comes that eagle again, and he wasn’t turning back. “OH OH!”. I started to walk briskly back to the car. Then I ran. Luckily I didn’t slip on ice, and double-luckily I didn’t get attacked by a bald eagle. It was very Hithcock-esque. Imagine this: A dreary, cold February day, a foolish man holding up a camera phone, suddenly face to face with an eagle making a beeline at him, then running away in fear hoping for a sae haven from a large, angry bird.
It was a mix of Hitchcock films, to say the least! On one hand you have Cary Grant running away from a plane in North By Northwest and on the other you have Rod Taylor running away from the birds in The Birds. I was both Cary Grant and Rod Taylor that day. And I live to tell this tale.
Either the eagle was just warning me to stay off his turf, or perhaps she was just curious about what I was holding in my hand. I am not going to mess with his surf or turf! I haven’t heard any stories of them attacking other folks.
The Eagle Has Landed
As a matter of fact, my nephew once went fishing not too far from the QC area a few years ago. He was fishing from a row boat and guess what happened?
An American bald eagle landed on his shoulder. At first, when he related this story to us, we didn’t believe it. Now I do. The eagle just sat on his left shoulder and dug its claws into his coat. My nephew was scared and did not budge. Seeing that the kid did not catch anything yet, the mighty bird took off - empty handed. Lucky my nephew didn’t smell of fish, otherwise he wouldn’t be here to relate his tale.
Freedom and Liberty
At the Alcoa plant in the QC, they have put up a permanent camera. This camera is called the “Eagle Cam”. This camera has live feeds of an eagle’s nest that was built a while back. The camera plays and records the on goings of a pair of eagles who return there every year to lay eggs. The eagles were appropriately named, “Freedom and Liberty”. Although they are male and female, it is hard to distinguish which is which; personally, I don’t know whose name is whose. You can learn those little ditties by going to the Eagle Cam website2.
What a great idea! If you have never seen eagles up close, then check that site out.
Last year the Eagle Cam captured the two stars with their eggs, taking turns warming the eggs and hunting and bringing back food. There was much excitement when the first egg started to hatch and millions witnessed the little eaglets bopping around in this huge nest, oblivious to the camera. There was some drama as a storm destroyed one of the cameras and it was hard to get a guy up there to install a new one. Fear for his life was probably a good reason to not put up a camera. However, they timed it right and got two cameras to capture those Kodak moments.
What was remarkable was seeing the eagles get food for the babies. You could actually look in the nest and see some fish and a squirrel or rabbit. The parents would peck away at the meat and force feed the youngsters. The parents take turns at chores and stick together. If there is a perfect example of a loving family in the animal kingdom, it has to be the Eagle family.
This year, there is new drama. It was the coldest winter in Iowa in 500 years so there was worry about Freedom and Liberty. (Well, maybe 400 years!) Yes, the loving couple had returned to the same nest, bless their little hearts. They did a little sprucing up. They added a few branches here and there, threw out the garbage and were ready make baby.
So, the viewers, AND the eagles, waited. And waited. And waited. What no egg this year? Too cold? It was all abuzz – people tweeting and talking about “the snowball”. Yes, there was a snowball in the nest and the eagles were treating it like an egg – they were sitting on it to keep it warm. What a tearjerker! How could you not feel sorry for these two lovebirds?
Will they be empty-nesters?
Well, surprise, surprise! An egg! Yes, they did it. Their worries were over, or were they? No, the next worry was the cold. Sub-zero weather – will this kill the egg? People seemed to worry more about the egg than the eagles themselves. But then a little later, another egg was discovered in the homestead. The family is growing. The worries were mounting because of the weather. The concern of viewers was that with the recent snowstorm, will the eggs survive. You see, the nest was packed with the cold white stuff.
The poor eggs, what will happen next?
Tune in to the Eagle Cam to see the conclusion of this story and their next adventure.
Same Eagle Time, Same Eagle Channel.
Bald Eagle Days
The Eagles will be leaving the area soon, once the youngun’s take their first solo flight. Liberty and Freedom will return next winter, along with all their co-stars. You can bet there will be some interesting episodes to watch.
Beyond the Eagle Cam, the Quad Cities hosts Bald Eagle Days. Plan your next rip for January 2015 for this event. Here you can watch the eagles with a tour guide and also learn about other animals, especially birds of prey. Next to the Bix Marathon, this is a big local event for people and a great chance to see these creatures up front and personal.
To learn more, go to QCCA Expo center website or type in Bald Eagle Days3 on Google.
And if that is not enough . . . there’s Eagle Counts. Yes, they conduct the “inventory” of eagle visitors in the QC area and also St Louis, Mo. How would you like the task of counting eagles? It’s pretty daunting. With my luck with eagles, it's best I stay in the car.
Well, at the Arsenal Island (US Army installation) which sits on the Mississippi River and is a part of the State of Illinois, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers count how many eagles they see at the Lock and Dam.
Here are some counts to take note of:
- On December 4, 2013 they saw a total of 30 eagles.
- On January 8, 2014 they spotted 126 adults and 131 juveniles for a total of 257 bald eagles at the Lock and Dam.
- On February 26, 2014, 2 days before I was doing my own eagle watching (and running from!) there was a total 163. Obviously some are going back North.
That’s a lot of bird. and that doesn't take into consideration any eggs laying around! To learn more about eagle counts, go to the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers website4 for the Rock Island district. Isn’t it so appropriate that our national army is concerned about our national bird?
You can bet your beak they’ll be back next year, showing off and saying “You can’t keep a good bird down!” and with a vengeance!
An Eagle Cam Clip
Eagle or Vulture? - Take a guess
Birds Of Another Feather
Close Encounters of the Bird Kind
Being a city boy most of my life, I get excited when I see animals you don’t normally see. So visits to little farm towns like Davenport, Dubuque, Galena, Peoria, and Cedar Rapids you tend to see a variety of critters. Well, I was jus’ moseyin’ around town near the river at two different seasons and started spotting more large birds. And I ain’t talkin’ geese. Seriously, I was amazed that as soon as the eagles took off to cooler temperatures, the pelicans and then turkey vultures (buzzards) arrived.
I will first talk about the buzzards, and you will soon see why.
Turkey Vultures are a protected species just like the eagles. They arrive in spring/summer. I have no idea yet where they come from. When I first saw them, I was in La Salle County Illinois and three of them were just walking on a dirt road. I was afraid to hit them but they lazily took flight by time I got to their meeting place. When I first saw them, I said to my wife, “What in the world is that?” They were huge, and ugly. I thought they were condors, but a wee bit smaller.
My next encounter was on a trip going west from Dixon Illinois, Dixon is Ronald Reagan’s boyhood home and I bet if he were here now he could spin yarns about buzzards and commies all day. Jeepers, we miss the guy. Anyhow, on the road, I think it was I-88, I was just cruising along and all of a sudden from the ditch at the passenger side these huge wings flew over my windshield. They were wider than the windshield. Wow, a baby pterodactyl! Nah. I scratched my head and said “Whew!” at least I didn’t hit it and smash my windshield.
Well, in the summer of ’13, I saw plenty of these big birds. I thought they were eagles coming back for another show. From the ground these birds are mistaken for eagles. Then I learned that the v-shape of their wings while gliding gives them away. Eagles have a level wing span while turkey vultures have the shape of a “V”.
So, yep, these were turkey vultures. An interesting bird for me, the locals call them buzzards and don’t care for them. They do not attack but fly close to humans. They do not kill livestock or pets either. But, they got a bad wrap. Remember “Buzz Buzzard” from the Woody Woodpecker cartoon? That’s probably where the rumors started. People have more problems with owls snatching small cats and dogs than buzzards. So give Ole Buzz a break!
The reason I include them in this article about eagles is that they sometimes get confused with our national bird. They are all part of the bird rotation that goes on down by the river.
Another Story, Sad but True!
I do want to relate a story which caused no one to believe me for years. One time I was driving past the Cal Sag in Will County Illinois going down Highway 171. This route is inundated with woods but you can see the clear sky above the road. I was just minding my own business, listening to the radio and lo and behold! A flying deer! A flying deer??? Deer don’t fly but this one did. Oh, wait, this is sad. It was a dead baby deer being carried by a big old vulture. Iguess he found a dead one and took it home to eat - finders keepers. Oh well, that's nature. Turkey vultures do these kinds of things.
Fast forward to last fall. One late Sunday evening, while it was still light, we look up and see almost a hundred big birds circling the area (a wooded area in Rock Island). Are those eagles? They have weird faces. No, grasshopper, they are turkey vultures. They all headed back to the water tower and perched on the cat walk. There were so many of them, we were afraid to get out of the car.
If that wasn’t enough, I’ve seen many interesting birds around the Quad Cities and Hannibal MO. (I am not a bird watcher, an ornithologist for you smarty pants out there, and yet I have spotted on many occasions plenty of hawks, huge ravens, hummingbirds, owls, and wild turkeys). And then there’s the pelicans.
That’s right. As soon as the eagles flew the coop, the pelicans come home to roost.
For the past 10 years white pelicans started visiting the quad cities area flying over the Mississippi and feeding. It’s funny to watch them catch food; dip their heads in the water. Their flight pattern is remarkable: Stubby bodies gliding gracefully through the sky in union with their partners and descending together like the Blue Angels when their show is finished. I always thought they were only on the west coast, but I was wrong. They are in the Midwest and we better get used to it.
Pelcans and vultures and eagles. The eagles are by far, the most fascinating bird. If you have never seen a live one in the wild, now you can. If you can’t get to the Quad Cities, there are other places where they are coming back with a vengeance. If you want to get up close and personal with them, I recommend the eagle cam. I guarantee you’ll be glued to your seat watching the exploits and adventures of Freedom and Liberty.
© MMXIV Robert Lattin.
- Alcoa Eagle Cam
A pair of bald eagles joined the Alcoa Davenport community in Iowa in 2009. They built their 7-foot nest on our 400-acre facility in a tree near the Mississippi River.
- Bald Eagle Days
QCCA Expo Center, Rock Island IL
- Rock Island District > Missions > Recreation > Mississippi River Project > Education >
The official public website of the Rock Island District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Pelicans in the Quad Cities
Pelicans and Eagles
Commonly seen by the Mississippi
© 2014 Rob Lattin