Special thanks to Eagle-Eye Nye for providing his time and expertise in responding to your questions!
Q. We are anxious to locate a nationwide list of "viewing sites" for Bald Eagles. Can you please refer us to the best list(s) of sites possible? Charles
A. Hi Charles, There are numerous great places to view bald eagles around the country ! Alaska would have to top my list, Southeast Alaska in particular, but also a place there called the Kenai penninsula. I think by far, the most premier place to watch eagles in the fall and early winter, is the Chilkat Valley in Haines, Alaska, where thousands of eagles concentrate each fall to feed on stranded fish. Suggest you contact the State of Alaska or the US Fish and Wildlife Service in Juneau, Alaska. Check the web site for contacts.
The Klamath basin in Oregon is a spectacular place to observe wintering eagles leaving their roost and flying to their feeding areas. Again, contact the State of Oregon (Fish and Wildlife or DNR) or the Fish and Wildlife Service.
Finally, we in New York have several bald eagle viewing sites set up specifically to watch bald eagles, both winter and summer, including a public viewing blind at one site where hundreds of eagles gather each winter in southern NY, in an area where some of our eagles are captured for tracking each winter, such as E/63 this winter! Check out our web site I don't know where you live, but check with your local Fish and Wildlife Agency also. Have fun!
Q. We live in downeast Maine and have an eagle nest on our land. (This land has a conservation easement on it so the nest is protected!!) The nest is near a salt water bay. We know that this pair stays here through the winter. What determines when adults migrate or stay put?
A. Excellent! You are SO lucky ! You also sound very knowledgeable about eagles and their protection in Maine; good! Maine has been doing an excellent job monitoring and managing/conserving their eagles, and many states could take a lesson from what has been done up there. Anyway, to your question. You are again correct in your observation about "your" local pair. We pretty much know that eagles that breed on or near areas of water that stay open year-round, like the ocean or fast-flowing rivers, remain at or near their breeding territories all year. The key to whether they move or not? FOOD ! If then can get all they need to survive through the winter, why leave?
Q. If an adult pair migrate, do they stay together through the migration? If not, how do they reestablish the pair bond when they return to the nest?
A. Our research to date indicates that mated pairs of eagles that do migrate, do not migrate together. I'm not sure why this is (I know you didn't ask, but it got me to thinking!), but it could be adaptive (beneficial to the species over the long run) for them not to migrate together. This reduces the chances of both birds being killed for some reason along their migration, and may ensure that at least one of the adults survives and returns to the breeding territory to keep it going. Although we do observe what seem to be "pairs" of eagles together on the wintering ground, we do not know if this is generally the rule, or if mated pairs may not only not migrate together, but may also not use the same wintering areas. Again, this could be adaptive. This is also one of the ongoing research questions we are attempting to answer, and given enough time, we will.
Can anybody tell me how they think we would find this out?? After the eagles return to their nest, separately, they re-establish their pair bond by time-spent together and through distinct behaviors, such as beak-rubbing and aerial courtship flights, which are spectacular, and consist of flying together extremely closely, chasing and tumbling like fighter planes.
Q. I am studying a group of Harbor seals that haul out on rocks very close to the eagle nest and so have observations of the eagles as well. Do you have any use for these observations?
A. You don't say where you are from. East coast I assume; Maine? I cannot use your observations, but perhaps your state fish and wildlife agency may be interested in your observations at the eagle nest, especially things like when they go down on eggs, hatch young, and if the young survive and successfully fledge from the nest. I am sure they would also be very interested in any disturbances or problems you might witness at the nest site.
From a more scientific standpoint, I would be interested to know if you have ever seen the eagles try to harass the seals or get prey from them. How do they get along ? Any interactions between these species?
From: NEW JERSEY
Iselin Middle School
Q. If an eagle's wings are hurt and can't migrate, how long would it be able to survive? Angelica C. & Angelica F.
A. Dear Angelica's, (are there really two of you ??), this would depend how badly injured the eagles wings were. I suspect that if an eagle had a wing injury so severe it couldn't migrate, this would mean it couldn't fly well and it would not survive for long, perhaps a week or two at the most if it could not fly and get food on its own.
Q. Eagles have been seen in New Jersey. How many pairs are now living there and how far south have they migrated?
A. For the most accurate answer, I would contact the NJ Wildlife, Endangered Species people in Trenton. But here's my guess; about 20-30 nesting pairs there now. I also don't believe they are very migratory. I bet they stay in NJ around their nest site or not too far away most of the year; some (especially the immature birds) undoubtedly move down to the nearby Chesapeake Bay.
From: NEW YORK
Highview Elementary School
Q. How much time passes between when the eagle sees its prey, and when it catches it?
A. This would depend on how far away they spot the prey and when they decide to go after it; there is no automatic rule of thumb for this. Eagles will often sit for hours scanning the water for prey to either swim near the surface or float by. Generally though, once they leave their perch for some target prey, they either catch it or they don't within a minute or two. This also depends on the type of prey they are after. For example, if they are hunting waterfowl like ducks or geese, they may make many passes over an hour or two before successfully selecting their target and killing it.
Q. Do bald eagles have the same digestive system as humans do?
A. Now there's an interesting question! The answer is, no. Birds in general have a higher metabolic rate than we do, which demands that they "process" their food as quickly as possible. This means getting it into a form from which they can extract the energy they need, quickly and efficiently. Birds, including eagles, have adaptations for doing this. Most importantly, part of their stomach has turned into a "gizzard", which we don't have, in which food is ground down to a fine consistency to permit rapid digestion. In eagles, this is also the place where "pellets" are formed. These are masses of material from prey that cannot be digested, such as fur, feathers, and occasionally bone, that then travel backwards from the gizzard up to the mouth and are cast (like vomited) out the mouth. Depending on what they have eaten, pellets are formed after the meal, overnight, and are usually cast out the next morning. Most fish are digested completely. Eagles have very strong stomach acids, and can digest bone quite well, which aids them in their own bone formation and in their egg-shell formation. Another major difference is that eagles (and other birds) have something called a "crop", in the upper alimentary track (esophagus) where food can be stored for days. This is extremely beneficial to eagles, who can store up to two pounds of food in their crop when prey is abundant, so they can then go without food for several days if need be. There are more differences, but these are two of the major ones.
Q. When canoeing on a NW arm of Upper Klamath Lake, OR, last August, my wife and I watched an adult bald eagle apparently coaxing an adolescent eagle to fly. Finally the young eagle flew from the nest. When the adult returned, after circling a number of times and followed shortly by the younger bird, one of them immediately burst into song. We've never read anything about eagles singing (i.e., other then their normal screech). We still hardly believe we heard what we did--but we did! It was beautiful. Is this common? Or did we witness a fluke of nature? Richard R.
A. Hey, you don't sound like a 6th grader! Or you got married very young! Ok, I'll answer your question anyway. Lucky you, being up on Klamath Lake ! Adults will "coax" young to leave the nest, just as you observed. Eagles vocalize regularly. They have only a few types of vocalizations, and virtually nothing is really known of their meaning (although many guess at them). Many people also speak with disrespect about the "whimpyness" of eagle calls, but I guess it depends on your perspective. I have always found their primary call, one I describe as a descending chitter-call, kind of like a laugh, as pretty eerie and penetrating. What they are trying to say, I don't know, but they use this call under many different circumstances, and the one you describe does not surprise me in the least. They often use this call when other eagles are present, or are flying in, say to a feeding area or roost or perch. It could be a warning, or a greeting, or? One of the things I would like to know some day, is what eagles are saying to each other!