by Bea Peterson
Drive North along Route 22 and two fields past Route 346 on the right, along the Hoosic River near the intersection with the Little Hoosic River, you may be fortunate enough to see a bald eagle sitting on a nest high in a cottonwood tree. In recent weeks folks have been watching a pair build their nest. Nearby neighbor Steve Waytkus read that they like to have hay for building material, so he has set out a couple of bales for them. It looks like they use small branches as well. The nest is large. If you choose to stop to have a look be careful on the roadway. And stay on the roadway. Don’t try to get close. Everyone would be disappointed if people drove the birds away.
Some information on bald eagles readily available on the internet states the Interior Department took the American bald eagle off the endangered species list in June 2007. The bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) is a member of the sea and fish eagle group. Both male and female adult bald eagles have a blackish-brown back and breast, a white head, neck and tail and yellow feet and bill. Juvenile bald eagles are a mixture of brown and white. They reach full maturity in four to five years. The female bald eagle is 35 to 37 inches, slightly larger than the male, and they weigh from ten to fourteen pounds. Their wingspan ranges from 72 to 90 inches. Bald eagles can fly to an altitude of 10,000 feet. During level flight, they can achieve speeds of about 30 to 35 m.p.h.. Eagle bones are light because they are hollow. The beak, talons and feathers are made of keratin. Bald eagles have 7,000 feathers. Their lifting power is about four pounds. Eagles molt in patches, taking almost half a year to replace feathers, starting with the head and working downward.
Bald eagles sit at the top of the food chain. In the wild they may live as long as thirty years. Their diet consists mainly of fish, but they will take advantage of dead and decaying flesh.
The bald eagle is a strong swimmer, but if the water is very cold, it may be overcome by hypothermia. It’s hunting area varies from 1,700 to 10,000 acres. Home ranges are smaller where food is present in great quantity.
All eagles are renowned for their excellent eyesight. As in Petersburgh, their nests are built in large trees near rivers or coasts.
An eagle reaches sexual maturity at around four or five years of age. Once paired, bald eagles remain together until one dies. The female lays from one to three eggs. During the 35 days of incubation, duties are shared by both male and female. The nesting cycle is about 20 weeks. Today, there are an estimated 9,789 breeding pairs of bald eagles.
Causes of eagle deaths are fatal gun shot wounds, electrocution, poisoning, collisions with vehicles, and starvation.
The bald eagle became the National emblem in 1782 when the great seal of the United States was adopted.