Bald Eagles: Convocation at the top of the food chain
Last weekend as I looked out our living room window overlooking Green Bay, I saw a pair of bald eagles perched on the ice near the open water. I assumed they were hunting fish. But through binoculars I could see one of them had captured a Bufflehead duck.
Bald eagles live at the top of the food chain. Other than man, they have little to fear in the natural world other than competition for food. Although they typically prefer fish, bald eagles are also known to subsist on small birds and other animals; even muskrats.
Soon the two adult eagles were joined by two juveniles, followed by more adults and juveniles until the convocation grew to 10. They were about 200 yards offshore so I grabbed my camera to see what shots I could get with a telephoto lens. For awhile I saw the duck was still alive although apparently unable to escape. The eagles passed it from one to another like a play toy. One eagle would fly with the duck in its talons and then drop it onto the ice, where it would be picked up and flown around by another eagle. This went on for several minutes. Finally one of the adults pounced on the duck and delivered the coup de grâce with a few forceful pecks to its head. It was a fascinating scene to watch and be reminded of the harsh realities of survival in the natural world.
Facts about bald eagles
- Adult males are usually smaller than adult females and weigh up to nine pounds. Adult females weigh 12 to 13 pounds or more. Adult eagles have a wingspan up to seven feet.
- In general, bald eagles have a lifespan of 30 to 35 years in the wild, although some bald eagles have been known to live up to 50 years in captivity.
- Bald eagles don’t sport all-white feathers on their head and tail until they are four to five years old.
- Eagle nests can be as large as four feet in diameter and three feet deep.
- Eagles can fly as fast as 30 miles per hour.
- Bald eagles typically mate for life, although occasionally an intruding adult battles the resident bird for the territory, sometimes taking over. If one of the pair dies, the other will find a new mate and usually occupy the same territory.
- By 1963, with only 487 nesting pairs of bald eagles remaining in the lower 48 states, the species was in danger of extinction. Loss of habitat, shooting and DDT poisoning contributed to the near demise of our national symbol. DDT was banned in 1972, which was the first step on the road to recovery for the bald eagle. Today with an estimated 70,000 bald eagles in North America, they are a fairly common but always majestic sight.