Birds - The American Bald Eagle
The American Bald Eagle was unofficially chosen as a National Symbol in 1872, when the Constitution of the United States was ratified. It was not officially nominated as such until 1788. There was a heated debate, led by the great statesman Benjamin Franklin, about this bird becoming the National Bird. Mr. Franklin wanted the turkey which he thought better symbolized the clean, honest, and more straightforward ideals of the American people. His bid was lost, however, in 1789 when George Washington became the first President of the USA, and the Bald Eagle was officially adopted as the "First Bird".
The American Bald Eagle is the only eagle which is native to North America and it's only on its native continent that one may find it. Alaska, the 49th State admitted to the Union, is home to about 35,000 of the 70,000 total population. British Columbia boasts about 20,000, and the rest predominantly inhabit the Pacific coastline, with a few scattered throughout the rest of the United States. Population is heaviest in the Pacific Northwest due, in part, to the large amount of salmon found there. Eagles depend greatly on fish as a main part of their diets.
They will eat small animals such as mice, rabbits, muskrats, duck and snakes and they will resort to eating carrion (dead animals), if necessary. However, they prefer that their food be of a fresh source and they are partial to fish. While Bald Eagle are capable of carrying their food in flight, they can actually only lift about half of their body weight. Although they can dive, catch fish in the water, and swim to shore with them, they have also been known to drown if the fish is too big and they don't let go of it. The body length, for both males and females, ranges between 29 and 42 inches (73.66 to 106.68 centimeters). The male is usually between 7 and 9 pounds (.497 to .639 stone) and has a wingspan which can exceed 6 feet (1.
83 meters). The female is larger and can weigh up to 14 pounds (.99 stone). She can have a wingspan of up to 8 feet (2.44 meters). In level flight, the Bald Eagle has been recorded at speeds up to 44 miles per hour (70.1 kmp). It can dive (and has been clocked) at speeds of 75 to 100 mph (120.68 to 160.39 kmp).
The eagle is capable of riding the thermal air currents in excess of 10000 feet (3048 meters) and can stay aloft doing this for hours at a time. This species of bird mates for life, and will only seek another mate if their "spouse" dies. They build an "eyrie (also spelled aerie)" in which they incubate their eggs and raise their eaglets until those leave the nest at 12 weekS. An eyrie, or nest, can be built in the tops of giant trees (quite often aspens) or on a ledge of a mountain. The eagles habitually add to their nests until they reach up to 10 feet (2.54 meters) in diameter. The eyries are lined with soft materials such as leaves, feathers, and moss to provide a suitable area for incubating the eggs once the female lays them. The eggs are usually laid at the end of April, following a fascinating "courtship dance" in early April, which the eagles perform in midair. They dive and climb, and look to be attacking (locking talons, or claws with) each other during this flight sequence. After the eggs are laid, the male and the female take turns in hunting, incubating the eggs (34 to 35 days, usually hatching in late May or early June), monitoring the nest, and brooding/feeding the eaglets until they are large enough to fly and leave the nest.
This occurs when the eaglets are about 12 weeks old. They develop special flight feathers, which make them look larger than their parents, that serve as extra balance (sort of like training wheels on a bicycle) while they learn to fly. Hatchlings are light grey when born, and turn dark brown before leaving the nest. Young adults have brown and white mottled feathers beneath their wings until they reach 5 years of age. At 5 years, the head and tail feathers turn white. The mature bird is not actually bald. "Bald", at one time, meant "white". Thus the name, "bald eagle". Between the fourth and fifth years, the beak and eyes take on the distinctive yellow color.
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