Bald eagle was once known as the fish eagle

I thought we would go ahead and finish out on the eagles with a few more facts you may not know.

The 60 species of eagles are divided into four groups: sea and fish (the bald), booted, snake and harpy.

It is thought that the eagle originated from kites, another bird of prey, in Southeast Asia. Fossil remains of the bald eagle have been found only in North America. These date back 1 million years.

Our eagles have had several names over the years. These include: the fish eagle, Washington eagle, Washington sea eagle, American eagle and American bald eagle. We now simply call it the bald eagle.

While everybody is grateful that the eagle population is on the rise, there is a downside. As the bald eagle prefers getting its prey around the water, increasing populations have been forcing it from the water to live on other wildlife, including road-kill.

In places where the osprey is present (one of the few birds that actually dive into the water for fish), the eagle, larger and more dominant, will chase it and mess with it until it drops the prey. The eagle then takes the prey.

Bald eagles kill only to eat, something the early pioneers didn’t understand.

The population of bald eagles in 1782 was estimated at around 200,000; this dropped by the 1960s to about 800 in the lower 48 states. Two things are helping the recovery — the banning of DDT in 1972 and the Endangered Species Act in 1973. By 2005, the eagle had rebounded to about 16,000. While it is now off the endangered list, it was moved to the threatened list.

The adult eagle is known as nonsexually dimorphic (throw that term out at your next dinner party), which means that male and female look alike. Other birds of prey also are this way: owls and hawks, along with jays, sparrows and crows, to name a few.

When born, the eagle chicks are covered with down that can range in color from dull white to gray. In a short time, the dark outer feathers start to grow, these are molted (lost) after the bird gets about a year old.

When adults molt their large wing feathers, they are often lost in pairs, one from the same position on each wing.

Eagles spend a lot of time preening their feathers, running the feathers through the bill to remove dirt and straightening any bent feathers. To clean the feathers on its head they will scratch them with their feet, much like a dog with an itch.

The bones of an adult eagle will weigh around 8 ounces or about 5-6 percent of its body weight. Compare that to our bones, which are almost 20 percent of our body weight.

Let’s talk about eagle feet, the business end of the eagle. Each foot has four toes, three forward and one back, the one in back can be compared to our big toe. The nails (called talons) are made of the same material as the beak, these toes even with being worn down through daily activity and constantly replaced, can reach up to 2 inches long.

Four pounds is about the heaviest weight that an eagle can lift, and like other birds, have control over their feet. They can hold or release objects at will, if an object appears too heavy the eagle can simply let go.

The eagle call is a high-pitched stuttering chirp that they give with their heads thrown back or they may rotate their heads from side to side. The calls are used to announce territory or to call out to their mate.

The nests are impressive, also known as an aerie (sometimes spelled eyrie), depending of the how tall the tree is the nest can be anywhere from 10 feet to 100 feet above the ground. In the far north (where trees are short or not there) they will nest on the ground. In the Everglades, they build in mangrove trees that grow just a few feet off the water.

Author photo
Rorye Hatcher is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at ​317-477-3211 or