I’d Rather be an Eagle Than a Turkey, St Luice River/Indian River Lagoon

The Bald Eagle, (Public Photo)
The Majestic Bald Eagle, (Public Photo)

Benjamin Franklin preferred the wild turkey as our national bird, as he felt the bald eagle, that sometimes steals food from other birds of prey, had “bad moral character…” Even so, one has to wonder if the United States of America would have ever reached its “greatness” if our national bird had been a turkey.

Wild turkey displays its fanned tail. (Public photo)
A beautiful but not quite as stately, wild turkey displays its fanned tail. (Public photo)

Just recently during the Stuart Air Show, my brother Todd, sent me some photos he took of an eagle soaring over the St Lucie River in North River Shores. About three weeks ago, I was pulling into Cedar Point Plaza in Stuart, I looked up and saw the unmistakable white “bald” head, large body enormous wing span of a bald eagle. Incredible! Inspirational! It made my day!

Bale Eagle flying over North River Shores. (Photo by Todd Thurlow, 11-14.)
Bale Eagle flying over North River Shores. (Photo by Todd Thurlow, 11-14.)

Today, in our Indian River Lagoon Region, birds of prey are by far more prevalent than when I was a kid growing up in Stuart in the 1970s and 80s. Even if the Indian River Lagoon system was healthier then, than it is now, in the 70s and 80s, rarely did one see the great eagle soaring or the abundant ospreys one sees today.

The reason? Of course DDT, (dichlorodiphenyltrichhloroethane), a powerful chemical used to control mosquitoes and as an agricultural insecticide. Once it became widely known that DDT was a threat to both bird and human health, primarily due to the publication of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, in 1962, DDT’s use was eventually outlawed in the United States.

So in spite of the St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon’s extensive decline, there are more eagles about today than before. In Florida, after being designated as “endangered” since 1972, in 1995 the bald eagle was reclassified as “threatened.” The birds and their habitat remain protected.

Eagles mate for life and a pair has been reported in the area of Sewall’s Point for about four years. The photo below was taken by Greg Braun and shows one of the eagles sitting on a rock by Bird Island. Apparently, the pairs may leave each other for many months when traveling great distances, and then return to their nesting sites. There are accounts of their “mating sky dance” where the eagles lock talons hundreds of feet up in the air and then tumble, almost hitting the earth, only to release and regain their flight at the last-minute!

 

Eagle sitting near Bird Island just off of the Town of Sewall's Point. (Photo by Greg Braun, 2012.)
Eagle sitting near Bird Island just off of the Town of Sewall’s Point. (Photo by Greg Braun, 2012.)

An eagle can stand three feet in height, and its wing span can be up to 8 feet! Their eyes are just larger than human eyes and of course, their eye sight is superior, approximately 3 and 1/2 times better than a human with 20/20 vision. For instance, they are able to see another eagle flying 50 miles away and a rabbit moving over the ground a mile away. They love fish and are outstanding hunters. Females are larger than males and dominate the nest, often killing the smaller male sibling. Nature does not sugar coat the eagle’s drive to dominate and survive, especially the females….

Another strong instinct is “pruning” which chicks mimic even before they have feathers by accessing an oil gland at the base of the torso using  their curved beak to pretend they are coating  each feather.  Baby eagles must grow for about five or six years to be sexually mature and attain their white head feathers. Parents take care of the young for many months even though the young start flapping their wings around 8 weeks and are encouraged to take flight.  I was lucky to experience this wonder, when a few years ago, Dr Dale Hipson, a friend of the family, took me to his camouflaged hide out in the Corbett Wildlife Management Area to watch eagle parents dutifully feeding and teaching their young. It was an experience I will never forget. 

Dr Hipson taught me that the  word “bald” is an archaic word for “white” and this is how eagles got their name. Juvenile eagles are brown in color and often mistaken as ospreys or hawks.

Reading about eagles, it is hard to understand their migration patterns and perhaps scientists  do not really know as they can’t fly with them, but it seems some eagles in Florida migrate thousands of miles to Alaska (Snow birds!) and some are “resident” eagles remaining here. Florida is  the second most eagle-populated state in the nation other than Alaska.

Eagle nests are the largest nests known.
Eagle nests are the largest nests known. (Photo Harbor Ridge reporting/video taping  of nesting site, 2011.)
Eagle in area of Rio, as taken last week by wildlife photographer,
Eagle in area of Rio, as taken last week by wildlife photographer and Facebook friend, Rebecca Fatzinger, 11-14.)

In closing, I am happy that some birds are doing well in spite of the poor health of the Indian River Lagoon. And I have to say that with no disrespect to the turkey, I am glad the eagle is our national bird!

Benjamin Franklin preferred the turkey to the eagle as he felt the eagle was of "bad moral character" as it sometimes steals food from other birds of prey and other eagles.
Benjamin Franklin preferred the wild turkey to the bald eagle as our national bird  as he felt the eagle was of “bad moral character…”

_______________________________________________________

Florida Wildlife Commission: Managing Bald Eagles: (http://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/managed/bald-eagle/)

Florida Nature: Bald Eagles: (http://www.floridiannature.com/eagleandospreyraptors.htm)

J.W. Corbett Wildlife Area, Palm Beach County, FL: (http://myfwc.com/viewing/recreation/wmas/lead/jw-corbett)

 

 

6 thoughts on “I’d Rather be an Eagle Than a Turkey, St Luice River/Indian River Lagoon

  1. Hi Jacqui. As I crossed the Roosevelt Bridge northbound last week, I looked up and saw 3 turkey buzzards soaring. In the middle of them was a much larger bird. I immediately realized it was a bald eagle. He circled a few times and then headed west toward North River Shores. It’s really hard to bird watch while driving! But he made my day.

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  2. Thanks for sharing your passion. These birds are so beautiful. Though up close, the eyes seem dark and hollow. I would not want to be Bald Eagle prey. I enjoy your writings. Thanks!

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    1. Insightful comment Mike! I have only seen a few eagles up close. One was the injured one the TC Wildlife Center that is used for education. The eagles eyes are intense. No compassion there….I have also been told never to look straight into the eyes of any bird of prey as they may jump forward and poke your eyes right out. They are pure predator. This is not a completely off metaphor for our US Government! Thanks as always for you comments; I really appreciate them!

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