Forming the symbol of freedom and America, the noble icon of the bald eagle is one that’s both mysterious and fascinating. Their huge wingspans demand respect, and once you learn that the species almost completely vanished in the 20th century, they become that much more intriguing.
Despite their common appearance on all things patriotic, there are a number of facts people don’t know about these graceful birds.
Bald Eagles aren’t “bald”
It’s easy to see these birds aren’t bald in the truest sense, so you might be wondering where their name comes from. In actual fact, the “bald” part refers to their white heads, which stand out against the dark feathers of their bodies when they’re in flight. It’s a shortening of the Old English term “piebald”, which means “white-headed”. The eagles grow the white feathers on their heads when they reach adolescence at around four or five years old.
Bald Eagles have a unique way of crossing water
No, bald eagles won’t be entering the next Olympic swimming races as they can’t actually swim. They can, however, drag themselves across the water’s surface using their wings as oars.
Bald Eagles are lighter than you think
Despite the huge wingspan that can stretch out for around 7 feet, bald eagles are actually pretty light, with males of the species clocking in at around 9 pounds. This is because their bodies are much smaller than their wings, helping them to easily swoop down on prey.
The Bald Eagle has been the emblem of America since 1787
It’s common knowledge that the bald eagle represents America, but not many people know how it happened. The idea dates back to 1787, when a drawing of the bird was shown to the newly-formed congress. It was chosen because of its great strength, its beauty, its association with authority, and because it’s native to North America. But this wasn’t the first time the bald eagle got the chance to represent something. During Roman times, it was used to symbolize government power, and it retains the idea of leadership in the present day.
Bald Eagle nests are mansions
Bald eagles build the biggest nests out of any bird in North America. The structures can be up to 13ft deep and 8ft wide, but the most impressive thing about them is their weight – the nests can clock in at a whopping one ton.
68% of Bald Eagle deaths are caused by humans
They might be one of the most noble, majestic creatures on the planet, but bald eagles are still at the mercy of humans. Almost three-quarters of bald eagle deaths are caused by humans, whether it’s intentionally or accidentally. In one study conducted, scientists found that 23% of eagles died when they hit man-made objects like wires, cars, and buildings, while a further 22% died after being shot. Another 5% died after they were trapped, 9% from being electrocuted, and 11% after they had been poisoned.
Female Bald Eagles are much bigger than the males
There are plenty of animal species where the female is considerably larger than the male, which is exactly the case of the bald eagle. On average, females are around 25% larger than the males of the species, giving them an even bigger wingspan.
Bald Eagles very almost went extinct
Back in the 1700s, there were thought to be between 300,000 and 500,000 bald eagles in the wild. But by the 1950s, numbers had fallen considerably until there were just 500 nesting pairs in America. Since then, conservation efforts have increased to protect the birds, and there are now around 70,000 bald eagles in the whole of North America.
These bald eagle facts prove these magnificent creatures are more than just the emblem of freedom. They’re a fascinating species that has weathered the sometimes harsh storms of being a predator, and they continue to thrive in the present day.