By Ali Dunstan
Symbol of strength, courage and freedom, the bald eagle is a must-have creature of nature and the emblem of the United States. The bald eagle has been our national bird since 1782. With one of the largest breeding bald eagle populations in the lower 48 states (according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission), these birds of prey are quite comfortable here. In fact, Florida is home to over 1,500 breeding pairs of these iconic native birds.
Considered a sea eagle, adults can weigh 10 to 14 pounds with an average wingspan of 6 to 8 feet wide. Adult males are known for their stately brown bodies, yellow feet and beaks, and characteristic white feathered heads. In the wild, they can live from 15 to 30 years.
Bald eagles are opportunistic birds of prey. Their diet consists mostly of fish, but they will also eat turtles, small mammals, carrion, and other species of birds. Bald eagles prefer to live in habitats with open access to water and an abundant food source; they are commonly found around lakes, rivers, estuaries and coastal communities.
Reproduction begins around 4-5 years old. Once paired, they mate for life, and breeding pairs return year after year to the same nest to lay their eggs. Bald eagle nests are so large that they can weigh up to 1,000 pounds. On average, bald eagles lay one to three eggs once a year. Eggs hatch on average after 35 days.
Bald eagles were once listed as an endangered species on the brink of extinction due to human activities. Habitat loss and degradation, illegal hunting and the use of a chemical pesticide called DDT were to blame. In the 1970s, DDT was banned and other protective legislation like the Endangered Species Act was put in place to save these magnificent birds and many other species. As a result of such efforts, they were removed from the endangered species list in 2007. We must learn from the lessons of the past and protect the wildlife we ââlive with.
The bald eagle continues to be protected under the Migratory Birds Treaty Act and the Bald and Bald Eagle Protection Act, which protect birds, their eggs and their nests. against hunting, poaching and damage. Today, populations have recovered and bald eagles soar into our sunny skies as a success story and a reminder of our nation’s resilience.