The Mag­nif­i­cent Bald Ea­gle

Cape Coral Living - - Radar - BY WIL­LIAM R. COX

The bald ea­gle (Hali­aee­tus leu­co­cephalus) was se­lected as the na­tional em­blem of the United States in 1782. It is the sec­ond largest North Amer­i­can rap­tor af­ter the Cal­i­for­nia con­dor (Gymno­gyps cal­i­for­ni­anus). The fe­male bald ea­gle is 25 per­cent larger than the male. The dis­tinc­tive adult plumage—the white head and tail and dark brown body—is at­tained at 4.5 to 5.5 years. Florida ea­gles mi­grate north­ward from Fe­bru­ary through July, pri­mar­ily along coastal ar­eas and mostly to Ch­e­sa­peake Bay. They eat a va­ri­ety of mam­malian, avian and rep­til­ian prey, but pre­fer fish to other food types. They some­times pi­rate fish from other species such as ospreys (Pan­dion hali­ae­tus). The ea­gle is water de­pen­dent and usu­ally nests close to ma­jor rivers, sea­coasts, es­tu­ar­ies and large lakes. It nests mostly in pines (Pi­nus spp.) and bald cy­press (Tax­o­duim dis­tichum). Nest build­ing be­gins one to three months prior to egg lay­ing; in Florida this runs from late Septem­ber to early Oc­to­ber. An ea­gle can build its nest in less than one week up to a month. It will use the same nest year af­ter year or use al­ter­nate nests within its nest­ing ter­ri­tory. These nests can be­come quite large, weigh­ing one to two tons. Most nests are 1.5 to 1.8 me­ters in di­am­e­ter and 0.7 to 1.2 me­ters tall or even larger. The nest tree is usu­ally the largest tree avail­able in the land­scape, rang­ing from 20 to 60 me­ters in height (23 me­ters av­er­age in Florida). Nest trees usu­ally have one or two snags prox­i­mal to the nest, which is most of­ten placed in the top quar­ter of the tree. Ac­tive nests are dec­o­rated with fresh pine nee­dles and Span­ish moss (Til­land­sia us­neoides), warn­ing other ea­gles that this nest is oc­cu­pied. Courtship in­cludes spec­tac­u­lar ri­tu­als such as the cartwheel

Earn­ing ex­tra pro­tec­tion in Cape Co­ral

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