Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Bald as an Eagle?

I'm bald. I know this because I have nieces and nephews who wisely point this out. My 4 year old niece and I tested this theory recently. Static electricity is generated when a balloon is rubbed on hair as it did when I swiped her with a balloon from her birthday party. She became irate when it was her turn to try the experiment on my hair since I have none. So empirical evidence would suggest I am bald. 

Centuries ago bald or balde meant having a white spot. Anyone who has stood behind me at the beach on a sunny day can attest that bald is still a fair assessment. But what about Bald Eagles? They're obviously not bald by the popular definition, nor do they "lack in ornamentation or natural covering" as is the an alternative definition. Their naming comes from early explorers of North America who named them Bald Eagles in reference to their white heads. I have a white head, but I am not a Bald Eagle. The logic of this is lost on a four year old.  
Let's complicate things. Bald Eagle chicks don't get white plumage on their heads until they're 4-5 years old. Once they reach maturity, they molt and the speckled brown and whites give way to a white head and solid brown body. We spotted this Bald Eagle chick (above) on a nest with a sibling, swaying rhythmically in the wind with the branches of an Australian Pine. 
A close-up of an injured juvenile (above) at a rehab center (VINS) reveals a mottled plumage with lightly brown feathers and brown and yellow beak. 
Hours after spotting the Eagle chick, we spotted an adult male perched in a dead Slash Pine near Punta Rassa. As I approached the Eagle became aggressive, crying and circling overhead. If you look close you can see the feet tucked up like landing gear under the tail. 
The bird continued to circle before landing in a patch of live Slash Pines, revealing the cause of its irritation - another nest occupied by mom and two chicks. Not wanting to disturb them any more,  I packed up the camera and departed, content that we had spotted 6 Bald Eagles in a few hours. 
It was only 30 years ago that my 3rd grade teacher suggested that by the year 2000, Eagles could be extinct. With the ban of the use of the harmful pesticide DDT (in the US at least) in the early 70's, Eagles, Osprey, Brown Pelicans and many other bird species higher up on the food chain have since rallied. DDT apparently prevented calcium carbonate from absorbing in the egg shells, resulting in severely thin shells. When adult birds attempted to incubate their eggs they would crush them. Today Florida boasts the 2nd highest population of Bald Eagles in the US behind only Alaska (where their ubiquity is celebrated with disdain). 

Their population resurgence is worthy of a party and if there are balloons, maybe I'll see if static electricity works on Bald Eagles. 

1 comment:

  1. That's amazing that you were able to see so many in such a short period of time. Thanks for the great pictures.