Look up and you might see a bald eagle in our skies


By SISTER JANET BURKHART, HM

Ohio Certified Volunteer Naturalist

CANFIELD

The majestic bald eagle is our national bird.

In the 1900s, the eagles were almost driven to extinction by the use of pesticides, but they were removed from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Endangered Species list in 2007.

Because of their near extinction, and their sacredness to many indigenous American Indian nations, they are a protected species.

Federal permits are required to possess any whole bird, or any of its parts or nests. A number of federal acts protect these eagles and other birds:

  • The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (1940)
  • The Migratory Bird Treaty Act (1918)
  • The Lacy Act (no illegal trade in wildlife)

Bald eagles can live anywhere in North America, although they prefer areas near lakes and rivers.

In the Mahoning Valley, there have been eagle nests since 1996. They have been sighted at Meander Reservoir, Berlin Lake, Lake Milton and other locations.

In general, any large bodies of water that have fish and large, open, branched trees such as sycamores are good places for eagle nests. This is also true for any rivers or medium-sized streams in the county.

We can hear their sharp creaking cackle if we’re in the right area of the Valley. They are diurnal, usually hunting during the day. They eat fish by snatching them from a surface of the water. They also eat carrion, especially in the winter when the lakes and rivers freeze over, making it harder for them to get their preferred food source of fish.

You might see them feeding on road kill, especially deer that have been hit and die 100 yards off the road.

There are differences between the young bald eagle and the adult one. Young bald eagles have brown feathers on their head, tail and wings. Their eyes and beak are dark, but as they age, their breast and under their wings begin to grow white feathers.

As for the head and tail, the white feathers begin to grow in the third and fourth years. In their fifth year, the adults have total white heads and tails. The eyes and beak lighten in color until the adult eventually has yellow eyes and beak. Their wing span can vary from 6 feet to 7.5 feet. Males are smaller than females.

Their eyes are about the size of the human eye, but it seems larger given the smaller size of the head. The eyes are fixed in place by the sclerotic ring. Being fixed, they can’t move their eyes.

Instead they have two focal points. One is the fovea or singular focal point, which is fixed at 45 degrees, allowing the eagle to see at long distances. The other focal point is the foveae (plural). This allows the eagle to see one view straight ahead, and on the other side of the head, to see at a 45-degree angle. In other words, the eagle can see straight ahead as well as on the side.

In fact, they can use both monocular and binocular vision, meaning they can use their eyes independently or together depending on what they are looking at.

An eagle can see something the size of a rabbit at more than three miles away. Eagles can achieve 30 mph using powerful wing-beats and even faster when diving after prey – up to 100 mph.

Keep your eye out for these wonderful birds throughout the Valley, and learn more at http://go.osu.edu/baldeagle.

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