Bird Identification – Bald Eagle
Every American boy and girl knows our national bird, which is the farmer’s ally, however, only when it appears on the money in his pocket. Without an eagle on that, you must know it would be of little use to him.
Truth to tell, this majestic emblem of our republic (borrowed from imperial Rome) that spreads itself gloriously over our coins, flag poles, public buildings and government documents, is, in real life, not the bravest of the brave, nor the most intelligent, nor the noblest, nor the most enterprising of birds, as one fain would believe. On the contrary, it often uses its wonderful eyesight to detect a bird more skilful than itself in the act of catching a fish, and then puts forth its superb strength to rob the successful fisher of his prey. The osprey is a frequent sufferer, although some of the water fowl, that patiently course over the waves hour after hour, in search of a dinner, may be robbed of it by the overpowering pirate. Dead fish cast up on the beach are not rejected. When fish fail, coots, ducks, geese and gulls—the fastest of flyers—are likely to be snatched up, plucked clean of their feathers, and torn apart by the great bird that drops suddenly upon them from the clouds like Jove’s thunderbolt. Rarely small animals are seized, but there is probably no well-authenticated case of an eagle carrying off a child.
It is in their family life that hawks and eagles, however cruel at other times, show some truly lovable traits. Once mated, they know neither divorce nor family quarrels all their lives. Home is the dearest spot on earth to them. They become passionately attached to the great bundle of trash that is at once their nest and their abode. A tall pine tree, near water, or the rocky ledge of some steep cliff, is the favourite site for an eagle eyrie. Here the devoted mates will carry an immense quantity of sticks, sod, cornstalks, pine twigs, weeds, bones, and other coarse rubbish, until, after annual repairs for several seasons, the broad, flat nest may grow to be almost as high as it is wide and look something like a New York sky-scraper. Both parents sit on the eggs in turn and devote themselves with zeal to feeding the eaglets. These spoiled children remain in the nest several months without attempting to fly, expecting to be waited upon even after they are actually larger than the old birds. The castings of skins, bones, hair, scales, etc., in the vicinity of a hawk’s or eagle’s nest, will indicate, almost as well as Dr. Fisher’s analysis, what food the babies had in their stomachs to make them grow so big. Immature birds are almost black all over. Not until they are three years old do the feathers on their heads and necks turn white, giving them the effect of being bald. Any eagle seen in the eastern United States is sure to be of this species.
In the West and throughout Asia and Africa lives the golden eagle, of which Tennyson wrote the lines that apply equally well to our Eastern “bird of freedom”:
“He clasps the crag with crooked hands; Close to the sun in lonely lands, Ringed with the azure world he stands. The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls: He watches from his mountain walls. And, like a thunderbolt, he falls.”