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Eagles of the bald variety

With spring here, there have been tons and tons of birds showing up around us. I like having them around. They’re fun to watch and to listen to. I’m surprised I’ve only written about birds once before, but it’s become one of my most popular posts. Like with most things, I consider myself a semi-novice birder. My wife, on the other hand, has achieved the rank of novice. The reason that I’m only semi-novice is because my birding skills don’t extend beyond me pointing at something and exclaiming, “That’s a bird!” I consider my wife the novice because she will often correct me. “No, dear. That’s a tree.”

There is, unfortunately, a limit to how much I like birds. To illustrate, I made my first graphjam.

As you can see, I only like birds a) when I’m not sleeping and b) when they’re not crapping on me. Despite how the venn diagram looks, this is actually a large majority of the time. And thank goodness for that. If the diagram was to scale I would spend about 40% of my time sleeping, 10% thinking birds are cool, and the other 40% of my time getting crapped on. Besides the sleeping part that’s a fairly hellish existence.

We live really close the the Mississippi river. Every year during the spring we’re visited by countless bald eagles. They usually arrive when the river is still frozen in most places and there are times when you can see a large convocation of eagles just chilling out on the ice. We’re talking dozens and dozens of them. With all of those eagles just hanging around like so many avian bums, it only stands to reason that I occasionally see them flying around. It’s an arresting thing to behold. They are probably the largest bird that lives around here, and seeing them floating so effortlessly and riding air currents is an entertaining sight. When walking our dog, Cassie, my wife and I will always joke that one of the eagles is going to swoop down and carry her away. Then we laugh at how clever we are for making the joke and having fun at the dog’s oblivious expense.

To prove to you that I’m not lying about this, I took my camera on my last outing with the dog in order to get photographic proof of our flying friends. The conspiracy theorist in me was hoping that none of the pictures would turn out and that they could serve doubly as either proof of an eagle or a U.F.O. Despite my best worst efforts, one of the pictures actually turned out really well.

It won’t win any awards but you can definitely tell that that’s an eagle. I also like the contrast between the blue sky and the little speck of an eagle.

Despite our joking about the dog being spirited away for consumption by an eagle, there is actually a little reason for concern. Bald eagles have been seen flying off with 15 pound mule deer fawns. That’s right around the same weight as Cassie. Her one saving grace is that she gained a bit of weight over the winter and might be too much of a tubbo to successfully carry off. Most of the time, though, when we see the eagles cruising around, they’re probably searching the river for fish to eat. Fish make up their main diet, but when that’s not available, eagles become scavengers and will feed on carrion. They even will steal food from smaller birds.  Not quite the trait I would’ve expected from the national symbol of the United States. On second thought, it is a rather fitting trait.

Though I’ve never seen it in real life, eagles fishing is just awesome to see.  They’ve got little attachments on their claws called spiricules that help them grasp fish.  They also can dive at speeds up to 100 miles per hour. Imagine how precise they have to be in order to fl through the air, spot a fish, dive at 100 miles per hour and grasp the fish from the water. Being terribly, terribly white, I have a hard time connecting on high fives.

Did you see that impressive wingspan? Average is 7 feet long. If an eagle did swoop down to take up my dog, I can’t imagine there’d be much I could do about it. Besides shit myself in abject fear, that is. It’s not like I could really go anywhere to get away from them, though. Bald eagles can be found everywhere in the U.S. except for Hawaii. They can live up to 30 years in the wild and 50 in captivity. Also, unlike Cuttlfish, eagles mate for life. They get bizay in their 30 years too. Most female eagles lay two eggs a year. Young eagles grow to sexual maturity in 4 to 5 years. Until they do, the juveniles are brown with white speckles everywhere. Their heads and tails don’t go white until their 4th or 5th year. I wonder if I’ve seen some juveniles flying about but didn’t realize they were bald eagles.

Until the eagles leave here for better hunting grounds I’ll continue to watch the skis…erm, the skies.

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Categories: Biology Tags: , , ,
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  1. April 4, 2010 at 8:10 pm

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