Welcome to the second week of Stalking Mike Blair Outdoors, Mike was very busy this last week by going out to Milford Reservoir and Kirwin National Wildlife Refuge. These two places are frequented by the majestic animal that the United States is known world-wide for: Bald Eagles.
In our last newsletter we talked briefly about how geese and other waterfowl make a mass commotion when a predator, such as an eagle, flies over. Why is this? Will an eagle really take down or rather snatch up a goose? Let’s talk about these beautiful creatures for a minute.
After reading all the information Mike has on eagles and a couple websites to dig deeper, we have found it remarkable that bald eagle behavior is so similar to a human. Follow the basic eagle timeline and see if you can catch the connections.
The bald eagle is probably what everyone pictures when they hear the word eagle, with a striking white head and white tail; they are easily recognizable and are a subject of awe for many. The bald eagle’s migration follows a similar one of the goose. Kirwin is a popular pit stop on the migration road trip. Kirwin is in northwestern Kansas, right in the migration path. Attracted to the large body of water on Kirwin’s 11,000 acres, approximately 1,000,000 waterfowl make this their winter home. A similar situation can be seen in Milford on a lesser scale. Check out these videos from Kirwin and Milford.
Bald eagles separate off into mated pairs. There are instances where eagles may separate or ‘divorce’ and find new mates, or if an eagle’s mate dies they will look for another mate as well. Most pairs stay mated for life and return to the same nest each year, adding to it.
Female eagles can lay from one to three eggs. This group of eagle eggs is called a clutch. A female will lay one clutch annually. The white speckled eggs take 35 – 40 days to incubate. The parents take turns incubating and hunting. Once the eggs are hatched, the female stays in the nest to protect the young and the male takes over hunting duties. Eaglet’s grow rapidly in their first weeks. They can gain about one pound every four or five days with enough food. At two weeks they can hold their head up; at three weeks they are nearly a foot tall. At four weeks they can stand up and no longer need their mother’s help tearing food. At six weeks they have their juvenile feathers and will stretch them feeling them in the wind. It’s at this point that they are in the nest alone most of the time.
When a eaglet takes its first flight, it is called fledging and they are officially a juvenile eagle. They take these first flights, at the encouragement of their parents, between ten and thirteen weeks. Fledged eagles will take short flights the first couple times, returning to the nest at night, before leaving completely and exploring the world for themselves. The mortality rate for eaglets is 60-70 percent. Dangers include, falling or being blown from the nest, other predators, large and hungry siblings and difficulties during first flight attempts. Watch this process yourself with Blair’s video.
A juvenile eagle is mostly brown. They will not receive their distinctive white markings until they have reached the age of maturity. During these juvenile years, they explore, learn and migrate. After four or five years these eagles mature. They acquire the striking white heads and tail. Their wing span is between six and seven feet and weigh anywhere from ten to fifteen pounds. If an eagle reaches maturity they can live up to thirty years.
It is believed that they group together during migration to scout out potential mates. Mock aerial combats can be seen in these gatherings, most likely to show off their skills to potential mates. Once eagles have found their pair, they will find a place to nest.
Bald eagles usually nest near large bodies of water, as this is where their main food supply comes from. These nests may be homed in large sturdy trees or sometimes in cliffs. Made of sticks, these large nests can be up to three feet deep and several feet wide. Eagles will place their nests within a 75 mile radius of the nest where they first took flight. It is uncertain how they decide between the male’s and the female’s origin but it always close to one of the locations.
Now, back to the question: why do the eagles have the same migration pattern as geese? Food. A bald eagles main dish is fish.This is also why their nests are usually located not far from some body of water. They will hunt in both salt and fresh water. Eagles have very sharp vision and can see fish swimming below the water’s surface. They use this eyesight to spot their prey. Swooping down, they use their sharp talons and 4 lb lifting power to grab their prey. These large predators will also eat ducks and geese, usually going after the sick, weak and injured ones. Surprisingly, these beautiful creatures will also scavenge dead animals for food. Their strong, hooked beaks help them tear apart and eat the meat.
See? We found their life pattern very similar to our own. Incubation, protected by mother, starting to stretch your wings and peek out the door, take first flight and ‘leave the nest,’ go explore the world and enjoy youth, return, find mate, settle down, have eaglets. Repeat.
For full size images visit the members Eagle Gallery!
**Member Exclusive** Mike has announced, in the spirit of Bald Eagle migration season, he will be revealing some amazing bald eagle footage that he obtained recently. However, this footage will ONLY be available to our Stalking Mike Blair Outdoors members. So, keep an eagle eye out for that! Also, be sure to like, share, retweet and +1 Mike Blair on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus so that all your friends can see his amazing work and get in on this exclusive content!