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3 Comments:

How interesting! I've learned so much that I didn't know about bald eagles from this. Thanks for sharing your wonder with us and making it ours.

By Blogger cathy, at 11:52 PM  

Great photos and info! I've only seen bald eagles once, and that was on a nature preserve in Ketchikan, Alaska. They were at quite a distance, so binocs were needed; what majestic birds!

By Anonymous Marg in Calgary, at 8:57 AM  

Loved your bald eagle story, Bess! :-) What a "wonder"ful way to tell it!

By Blogger Mary, at 2:12 PM  

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Sunday, May 25, 2008  

A conversation with Wonder.

Wonder: What is that thing up in the tree there? It looks like a volkswagon made of sticks.



It's a bald eagle's nest. It's fairly new – maybe 2 years old.


Wonder: Oh my! Do you suppose it's those eagles who used to live on Robert's Landing?

Yup.

Wonder: Why did they leave their old nest?

Probably because I kept going over there to look at it. Eagles don't like to have their territory invaded and walking up beneath their nest is definitely an invasion. That's the reason we don't go up close to this one. Most of the time the use their size and presence and their calls to warn invaders away, but they'll escort you away too. One time J and I were up looking at the old nest and the mama called her mate in from the water to send us away. He wheeled in from the bay, lighted on a prominent tree a ways off from the nest and puffed himself out. We'd already decided to turn back, but I felt his urgent desire for us to leave. As we came abreast of him, he took off and soared along beside us a while and once we were the right distance away, he flew off across the field. That's typical territory defense. If we hadn't cooperated, though, he might have attacked. They'll do that sometimes.

They'll also abandon a nest that has too many parasites in it.

Wonder: How does that happen?

Eagles bring food back to their nestlings, whole fish and other small mammals. They tear strips of meat off to feed the smallest chicks and they leave whole carcasses to larger ones. But they don't toss the refuse out of the nest, they just pile more sticks on top of the leftovers. It's thought they don't toss out the garbage because they don't want to attract other animals, especially bears, to the base of their nests. No parent wants a bear climbing up to the kiddies bedroom.

Wonder: They certainly are devoted parents, though I suppose all birds are.
Yes, and they're devoted to each other. Though there is some evidence that they will part if they fail to breed, most Bald Eagles mate for life and seem content to live with only each other for society. Thus, unlike geese, who have the society of the flock, if a mate dies and the widowed bird is still of breeding age, it'll mate again.
When they mate they do the most amazing acrobatics up in the air, wheeling and circling and locking talons to cartwheel across the sky. I saw this happen a few months ago. It was glorious.

Wonder: Oh – how long do eagles live?

Bald Eagles live about 30 years – about as long as a horse. It takes 4 years for their mature coloration to appear and even in adults, you'll often seen brown feathers among the white if you are fortunate enough to get up close to one. That brown speckled bird that you see hanging out with the buzzards is probably a young bald eagle.

Wonder: How many chicks does a pair usually have?

There can be as many as three eggs in the nest, but since they're laid some time – even some days – apart, they hatch at different times. The first to hatch often kills it's siblings, especially if there isn't enough food. Certainly the first born will have a day or two of growth on him and can out-scramble the others for food. If there are three eggs hatched, the third seldom lives to maturity and it's a close thing if even the second egg makes it. In fact, if the parents suspect they won't be able to feed two chicks – if frozen lakes or streams don't thaw soon enough, they'll bury one of the eggs beneath more sticks, so it doesn't hatch and only rear one. That's another reason the eagle nests grow so large.

Wonder: How big do they get?

They can grow over time to as big as 10 feet across, weighing several tons. Sometimes they get blown down in storms or when the tree dies and topples. If the babies are big enough, the parents will continue to raise them on the ground.

Wonder: Why didn't Ben Franklin want the Bald Eagle as the country's symbol?
He thought they were nasty dirty animals, thieving from other fish hawks and seen often dining with the buzzards, on carrion, which is true. They do steal from the ospreys out here - but then, I've seen ospreys win out in those battles. And I've seen many a Bald Eagle gathered around dead animals on the edge of the road or field. John James Audubon hated them too and thought as Ben Franklin did. He wrote some fairly scathing comments about Bald Eagles. Of course, I'm not offended by the carrion eaters. They're very important – think what your life would be like without refuse removal. Life in the wild would be no different.
Wonder: How can you tell the difference between buzzards and eagles when they're riding the thermals?

The buzzard (which real scientists call vultures – but which John Allen called “meat fat turkeys”) has a bent wingspan – he looks more like the batman symbol. Eagles have straight wings and of course, if you are lucky, the flash of tail and head will confirm your sighting. They are very majestic as they soar high above and are even more thrilling when they're up close.
Once as I was driving down the road I saw a bald eagle carrying a rabbit which was almost too heavy a load. He could rise only as high as my truck window. I slowed down to match his pace and we went along together, the eagle and I, till he came to a tree line that he knew, made a 90 degree turn to the right and flew on off to Farmer's Hall Creek. That was in the late 1970's when eagles were still a rare sight. Now they're more common, but they're still a thrill to see. So thrilling, I almost feel as if I ought to belong to the eagle totem.

Wonder: So you think the eagle has something to teach you on a spiritual level?
What animal in nature doesn't? But yes – I feel a special kinship to the Bald Eagle. I too, like to live with my one mate, deep in the woods, along the banks of the water. I too prefer the big picture to the details. I'm not much of a flier, but I am not afraid of heights– at least, not now that I no longer have children to raise. But in our mythology, our culture, even our advertising, Eagles symbolize the ability to see the highest truth or highest viewpoint, the connection from earth to sky, spiritual energy - that we have the ability to reach great heights when we find the courage to do so and that freedom is our birth right

Of course – this is all highly symbolic – since birds are no more free than any other animal in nature, with their struggle for home, their quest for food, the fragility of their young with no flock society to raise them if their parents can't. Sometimes, I think the only truly free animal is a well loved pet. So if I were choosing to come back as an animal and I could choose between a Bald Eagle and a Haile dog – well .... that's no choice at all.

Wonder: What about Bald Eagles in mythology?

Well, my wondering friend, that will have to wait for another day, because I smell the charcoal on the grill. That means its time to go cook dinner. We shall have to talk again about our brother, Bald Eagle.

posted by Bess | 6:31 PM
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