“Sunday morning, nine A.M.
I saw fire in the sky
I felt my heart pound in my chest
I heard an eagle cry”
“Where Eagles Fly” – Sammy Hagar
Awe-inspiring? An understatement perhaps, regarding one raptor revered in North American Indigenous cultures, ancient civilizations, religions and, since June 20, 1782, the emblem of the United States of America.
Although chosen by Americans for its long life, strength, and majestic looks, Benjamin Franklin thought the eagle was a bird of bad moral character. He felt that the turkey was a much more respectable and courageous bird, and more likely to attack British soldiers should they appear in the farmyard.
Many view the eagle as a symbol of vision, strength, leadership, nobility and ferocity. For those who look to the skies, the American bald eagle is indeed a most impressive sight.
Eagles weigh an average of 12 pounds and have a body up to 3 feet in length, all carried with a massive seven-foot wingspan. Full adults are easily identified with their brilliant white heads and tail feathers. A mature eagle sports yellow feet, yellow eyes, and a yellow beak.
Often perched in tall coniferous or deciduous trees that provide a wide view of the surroundings, the eagle prefers being close to water where fish, a main diet staple, congregate.
In Calgary’s most recent bird count on December 20th of 2020, 44 eagles were located, many along the Bow River. When fish aren’t available, mammals such as rabbits or muskrats will do. Carrion can also be a food source. At times other birds become victims of the eagle.
A clutch of eggs for eagles ranges from one to three. In Canada, along the west coast or in boreal forests across, these eggs are laid in late April or May. Weighing a mere three ounces at birth, eaglets grow to 11 pounds within two months.
Juvenile eagles remain a mottled brown for up to 5 years before attaining their distinctive adult coloration. It is easy to confuse a juvenile eagle with a golden eagle or a turkey vulture when in flight, as all three look similar.
Years ago while fly fishing in Sulphur Lake, west of Dixonville, Alberta, Scott Fitzpatrick and I had the pleasure of listening to the hungry screes of a juvenile eagle. The parents were close by with one flying over the bay where we were float tubing. Landing a brook trout, I made a decision to stun the fish and let it float away from us. The adult eagle circled twice and then came in low, then clutched the fish in its talons and headed into the trees to feed its young.
Once an endangered species, today the bald eagle soars above the clouds and reminds us of the heights of strength, vision and honesty to which we can aspire.