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Bald Eagle Graces Us With Its Presence

Updated on April 5, 2013
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How do you know if you've seen an eagle?

Have you ever been lucky enough to see a Bald Eagle in the wild? Before I had ever actually seen an eagle, there were several times when I wondered if I had seen one, but wasn't sure. Could it really have been an eagle? Or was it a vulture? Or a Crested Caracara, otherwise known as a Mexican Eagle? However, once I had experienced a definite sighting, the real thing, there was never any doubt. When you have really seen a Bald Eagle, you know it!

A juvenile Turkey Vulture. Note black head, long black tail. Dark wings, silvery flight feathers. Adults have red heads with white bills.
A juvenile Turkey Vulture. Note black head, long black tail. Dark wings, silvery flight feathers. Adults have red heads with white bills. | Source
Adult Turkey Vulture. Red head, white bill. Dark wings with silvery white linings, tilt from side to side when they soar.
Adult Turkey Vulture. Red head, white bill. Dark wings with silvery white linings, tilt from side to side when they soar. | Source
A Crested Caracara, a type of falcon. White neck and white tail, but tail is banded on the end in black, and head has black on the crown. Note white wing spots.
A Crested Caracara, a type of falcon. White neck and white tail, but tail is banded on the end in black, and head has black on the crown. Note white wing spots. | Source

Eagle or Imposter?




Many other large birds can easily be mistaken for eagles. If you see a very large bird and you think it may be an eagle, use binoculars and note the details, or take photogaphs with a telephoto lens and later inspect them on a display that you can zoom in on. If your bird has the identifying features of a completely white head, AND white tail without a dark band, AND bright yellow/gold beak and feet, you can be fairly certain that it is an adult Bald Eagle. Younger (juvenile) eagles do not have the distinct markings for 4 or 5 years, so they are trickier to identify, often having blotchy white on underwings and tail. For identifying mature Bald Eagles look for the head and tail to be completely white, with a dark brown body, and no white patches on the ends of the wings.









Know where to look

One of the benefits of living in a rural area is the diverse wildlife that also lives there. I have seen eagles often enough near my home that I recognize the flight path they use. I know now, to look for them whenever I am outside and I know where to look. The sky over me is big, with houses and barns spaced far apart on flat prairie, trees scattered in clumps or in rows along old fence lines and creeks, so that there is an almost unencumbered view in all directions. Whenever I am fortunate enough to spot an eagle flying overhead I am torn with the decision of whether to watch without taking my eye off of it, or to try to hurriedly get my camera, my phone, anything to record such a breathtaking sight. Usually, there is not enough time to do both. And usually, when I see an eagle, I am transfixed into a temporary state of not being able to function, incapable of doing anything other than staring up, slack-jawed, at this marvelous, mysterious bird.

Most recent sighting

Yesterday, I happened to be looking out my window as I chatted on the phone when I spotted a Bald Eagle flying with some vultures over a pond next to my property. It was easy to identify the Bald Eagle that was in such close proximity to the Turkey Vultures. Luckily, my camera was close at hand, and I grabbed a handful of batteries as backup, my binoculars, and flew out the door. I was able to take several pictures with a telephoto lens of the eagle near the pond.

Flying in
Flying in | Source

The Eagle Has Landed

I watched it land next to a dead raccoon that was on the edge of the pond. The vultures, who had been circling the carrion, left when the eagle landed.

A Bald Eagle takes a closer look at the dead raccoon on the edge of the pond.
A Bald Eagle takes a closer look at the dead raccoon on the edge of the pond. | Source

After inspecting the raccoon for a while, and picking at it, the eagle flew to the top of a medium size pine tree, then, after about 10 minutes, flew away.

Source
Bald Eagle, looking very regal
Bald Eagle, looking very regal | Source

A frequent flight path

Earlier that day I had seen a Bald Eagle on the same diagonal flight path that I usually see them on. On several occasions I have seen an eagle flying from a grove of tall trees across the same diagonal path, presumably to fish at a small lake a few miles away. This flight path takes them over several ponds and man made lakes in the area, where they undoubtedly are hunting for food and fishing.

Another encounter

As I took a break while writing this article, I stepped outside for some fresh air, and I heard a very unusual shrill cry from the sky. In the gray sky across the neighboring property were two Bald Eagles, engaged in a swirling aerial flight. I can only guess that it was some type of mating ritual, or maybe it was a hunting lesson from parent to offspring, but whatever it was, it was spectacular. As it continued for more than a minute, I ran in to get my camera. I got a few shots, but the day was overcast and cold for April, so the photos are gray and muted. To see it happening though was exhilarating, as the display expanded across the sky all around me. These eagles clearly had no boundaries and no fear. I watched them until they disappeared into the grove of trees where I believe their nesting territory is located. Hopefully they are preparing to raise eaglets of their own, and the amazing species will continue to multiply.

Eagle with a notch in left wing soars with another eagle.
Eagle with a notch in left wing soars with another eagle. | Source

For more information:

There are several good websites to learn more about Bald Eagles. Some of the most interesting are the sites with live feed eagle cams. If you watch the live feed you can check in on the eagles, watch as eggs are laid, as eaglets hatch, how they are fed and cared for, and then fledge. It is truly amazing to see nature in this way.

The Decorah Eagle Cam from Decorah, Iowa was active and very popular in 2012, but the eagles chose a different nearby nest this year, so the nest cam had to go offline this season.

To find reported sightings in your area, scroll to your state and click on it for a list of sightings.

The Bald Eagle Viewing Directory does not publish sightings during the nesting season of March through August to help protect the eagles from disturbance at their nesting sites.

However, if you read of a sighting that is near you, perhaps you will catch a glimpse of this regal bird.

Comments

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    • Naturezoom profile imageAUTHOR

      Susan Crowson 

      5 years ago from Texas

      I saw you had a bald eagle nearby too! How lucky we are to see them. Could be on most birders' list for a long time. Thank goodness they are no longer on the endangered species list.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      You'd best keep that camera nearby at all times. Glad to hear that you're getting some good action in your area.

    • Naturezoom profile imageAUTHOR

      Susan Crowson 

      5 years ago from Texas

      Update: Again, less than 24 hours after writing this Hub, the Bald Eagles were doing their aerials in the sky this morning . One calls to the other and they swoop through the air, coming very close to locking their talons, then at the last second they fly apart.

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