A huge bird with a white head and long, yellow claws swoops down on a river and snatches a fish right out of the water. It’s an impressive sight. So impressive that the citizens of the newly created United States of America decided to adopt the bird, the bald eagle, as their national symbol in 1782. It’s still used as a symbol—images of the eagle appear on every U.S. one-dollar bill and many quarter-dollar coins.
Since ancient times, people have thought of the eagle as a symbol of courage and power. Roman army divisions used the eagle as their symbol. The golden eagle was the symbol of the Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires and other governments in Europe.
There are almost 60 species (kinds) of eagles. These magnificent birds live all over the world.
AMERICAN BALD EAGLES
The bald eagle lives in wilderness areas of North America, from Alaska and Canada to Florida. A bald eagle isn’t really bald. White feathers cover its head and neck. The bald eagle is a type of sea eagle, or erne. It’s the second largest bird found in North America. Only the California condor is bigger. Bald eagle wings spread out to as much as 8 feet (2.4 meters) wide. Its body is about 30 inches (about 76 centimeters) tall and can weigh more than 15 pounds (7 kilograms). Female bald eagles are usually larger than males.
The golden eagle lives in North America, Asia, Europe, and northern Africa. Its name comes from the golden feathers that cover the back of its head and neck. The rest of its body is brown. The biggest golden eagles have wings that can spread out up to 7 feet (2 meters). The smallest have wings about 5 feet (about 1.5 meters) wide. Golden eagles have feathers on their legs down to the toes. The legs of other eagles are bare.
Many of the largest eagles live in warm, tropical places in Africa, Asia, and South America. Among the most powerful of these is the harpy eagle, which is gray-black with a white underbody. This bird lives in the rain forests of Central and South America.
HOW EAGLES HUNT
Eagles eat meat. They like to hunt live animals. They also eat dead animals, and they will steal prey from other birds. Eagles have large, sharp talons (claws). They spread their long wings and glide through the air looking for food. When they see something, they swoop down and catch their prey in their talons. Eagles use their long, sharp beaks for tearing up their prey.
Bald eagles live near lakes and rivers. They like to eat fish. Golden eagles eat mainly mammals, from mice to small deer. Sometimes they eat other birds. The harpy eagle eats mainly rain forest mammals such as monkeys, sloths, and opossums.
Most eagles build nests in high places that are hard to reach, such as treetops and cliff ledges. They build their nests out of sticks and twigs. Eagles use the same nest year after year. Each year, they make the nest bigger. Eagle nests can be as large as 6 feet (1.8 meters) across and 5 feet (1.5 meters) high. Some eagles, such as the steppe eagle of East Asia, build their nests on the ground.
Male and female eagles form pairs. Scientists think that eagle pairs stay together for life. The female eagle lays from one to three eggs in the nest each year. The female usually sits on the eggs to keep them warm. Sometimes the male sits on the eggs. Golden eagle eggs have brown blotches. Bald eagle eggs are white and later turn yellow.
When the chicks hatch they are covered with a kind of fuzz called down. They can’t feed themselves. The male brings food to the nest and gives it to the female. She feeds the chicks. After the chicks grow up, they stay near the nest for a time, and the parents still feed them. They eventually fly away to make their own nest.
THREATS TO EAGLES
Eagles do not like to live near people. Because they are such big birds, they need lots of room to hunt. People have moved into wilderness areas where eagles lived and built farms and cities. People have also hunted eagles. Chemicals used in farming have reduced the number of eagles. Many kinds of eagles, including the American bald eagle, became endangered during the 20th century.
Some governments have passed laws to protect eagles. Conservation groups also worked to help save these beautiful birds. In some places, eagles are making a comeback.
Source: Microsoft ® Encarta