The bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) is the largest raptor in North America.
A sea eagle or ern, it feeds mainly on fish and is found near large bodies of water. It nests in old growth trees. They are scavengers as well as hunters and a large part of their diet is dead fish.
This is the only eagle unique to North America. The bald eagle is both the national bird and national animal of the United States of America. It appears on the national seal.
In the late 20th century, it was on the brink of extinction in the US.
There is a widely held belief that DDT contamination of fish led to the bald eagleís demise. While pesticides were part of the problem, bald eagles had virtually disappeared from New England by 1937, almost a decade before DDT came into common use. In a report issued by US Fish and Wildlife in 1978, the reduction in the eagle population is attributed to loss of habitat due to development and illegal shooting.
Itís a dirty secret that, before they were protected by the 1940 Bald Eagle Protection Act the birds were considered a nuisance. Hunters, farmers and fishermen routinely shot them.
In any case, the rebound of this magnificent bird is a tremendous success story. The species was removed from the federal government's list of endangered species on July 12, 1995 and transferred to the list of threatened species. It was removed from the list of endangered and threatened wildlife in the lower 48 states on June 28, 2007.
A bald eagle can lift up to four pounds, or about half its own weight. The skeleton of an adult eagle weighs about eight ounces and is less than 10 percent of the total weight.
An eagle's eye is almost as large as a human's, but they see about four times as well as a human being with perfect vision.
Eagles do not sweat and must pant or find shade to remain cool; their body temperature is about 106 degrees Fahrenheit.
An eagle can live up to 30 years in the wild but the average life expectancy is 14. Many fledgling eagles die on their first flight.
Bald eagles figure prominently in American Indian legends, that identify it as a leader, guardian and messenger from the creator. One legend tells how the eagle had very poor vision until it convinced the slug to lend his eyes so the bird could scout for enemy tribes from the air. When the danger was over, the eagle refused to return the slugís eyes.
In most Indian cultures, eagles are considered medicine birds with impressive magical powers. They are important in the religious ceremonies of many tribes. The Zunis carve stone eagle fetishes for protection and to enhance their hunting skills. The Eagle Dance is one of the most important traditional dances held by the Hopi and other Pueblo tribes. Among Pacific Northwest tribes, eagle down is a symbol of peace and hospitality.