The Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) is immediately recognizable because of its distinctive white head, and also because, as the official symbol of the United States, it is featured on the U.S. presidential seal.
Bald Eagles are unmistakable and easily identified. This large eagle has broad wings, a brown body, and a white head and tail. Its beak and talons are bright yellow. In fact, the eagle's plumage is so unadorned that perhaps the Founding Fathers considered its simplicity when designating it as the national symbol - Ben Franklin's suggestion, the gaudy wild turkey, may have proved difficult to incorporate into official seals!
The range of the Bald Eagle includes areas near water in much of the United States. These birds have been known to congregate in large numbers where prey is abundant. Bald Eagles' main prey is fish, but they will also catch waterfowl and scavenge fish or mammals killed by other animals.
Because its diet dictates that it live near water, Bald Eagles breed in forested areas close to bodies of water. The eagles' courtship ritual is complicated and involves hours of paired aerial acrobatics, each bird interlocking talons in mid-air and spiraling toward the ground, only to release at the last moment and gain altitude. Bald Eagles are monogamous, and once breeding is complete, the pair must next embark on yet another energy-intensive project - building a nest.
The nest of the Bald Eagle is truly an architectural accomplishment. A breeding pair will begin wedging branches and sticks into a fork in a large tree. The nest is lined with fine woody material and vegetation, and re-used for several years. Some Bald Eagle nests measure more than 13 feet or 4 m high, 8 feet or 2.5 m across, and weigh more than 1 metric ton. In areas where there are no trees, the eagles will build a nest on a cliff.
Bald Eagles produce one to three eggs per year, but a more common number is two eggs. Rarely do more than two chicks survive. The eggs are approximately three inches long and bluish-white. Both parents take turns incubating the eggs for 34-36 days. The chicks are semi-altricial, meaning that they hatch with a covering of downy feathers but are still entirely dependent on their parents for food and warmth. Bald Eagles are devoted parents, and will bring carcasses and fish to the nest and delicately present the eaglets with small pieces held in their beaks.
The chicks fledge after 70-98 days, during which they molt their downy feathers and grow mottled brown flight feathers. The young birds can often be seen perched on the edge of the nest, which serves as a safe platform for the bird to test and strengthen their wing muscles. After the young birds learn to fly, they will often remain for several weeks in the vicinity of the nest learning to hunt by investigating unsuspecting waterfowl. Young eagles then undertake a period of exploration that takes them long distances from their hatching site and may last for several years.
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