photo by David Cloud
The majestic bald eagle has been the national bird of America since 1782. It is a large raptor about three feet high, weighing 9 to 14 pounds, with a wing span of 6 to 8 feet. Its habitat covers most of North America and northern Mexico. Its head and tail feathers are brilliant white, its body and wings are chocolate-brown, and its legs and bill are bright yellow. It has amazing eyesight, with the frontal setting of the eyes giving it binocular as well as peripheral vision.
It can see prey from a mile and more away. The bald eagle can reach speeds of more than 35 miles per hour in level flight and dive at speeds of 100 mph. The bald eagle is a masterpiece of weight reduction and micro-engineering. Its bones are hollow, with braces at certain points to increase structural integrity, the entire skeleton weighing only a little more than half a pound. This allows the bird to be light enough to take off and fly but strong enough to swoop down on prey at high speeds and carry it away, etc.
A bald eagle has approximately 7,000 lightweight but very strong feathers, all of the feathers together weighing only about 21 ounces. The flying feathers consist of amazing interlocking microscopic structures consisting of barbs and barbules (each feather held together by more than 350,000 barbule hooks), and there are four types of flight feathers, with each playing a different and necessary role in the bird’s ability to fly. The feathers trap layers of air to protect the bird from heat, cold, and rain.
The bird has perfect control over every part of the wings and tail for maneuverability. It kills its prey with its powerful talons, which are capable of creating 1,000 pounds of pressure per square inch with each foot. The bald eagle mates for life and the pair usually enlarge the same nest for several years. In the Pacific Northwest, British Columbia, and Alaska, bald eagles congregate to feed on spawning salmon in the early winter. I saw probably 200 bald eagles in one 10 mile stretch of the Skagit River in Washington State in December 2012.
(Friday Church News Notes, February 1, 2013, www.wayoflife.org, firstname.lastname@example.org, 866-295-4143)