Utah’s win­ter pro­vides sanc­tu­ary for bald ea­gles

Serve Daily - - MERIT ACADEMY - By Ed Helmick

Dur­ing the years I have trav­eled the back roads of Utah, I have no­ticed that my op­por­tu­nity to pho­to­graph bald ea­gles has been greater in the win­ter­time than in the sum­mer­time. I just dis­cov­ered there is a rea­son for that. Hun­dreds of bald ea­gles mi­grate to Utah from Canada and Alaska to win­ter here be­tween Novem­ber and March. In fact, Utah is al­ways in the top five to 10 states that ea­gles mi­grate to in the win­ter.

The Utah Divi­sion of Wildlife Re­sourses ex­plains that our lat­i­tude pro­vides a rel­a­tively mild win­ter and we have an ad­e­quate sup­ply of food for the birds. Most of the ea­gles fly back north when the win­ter ends. I had not pre­vi­ously re­al­ized that bald ea­gles were tran­sient birds.

The name “bald ea­gle” refers to the white head be­cause the bird is not ac­tu­ally bald-headed. Both the male and fe­male birds look alike; how­ever, the fe­males are typ­i­cally 25 per­cent larger than the male birds. The birds do not ac­quire the char­ac­ter­is­tic white head un­til they are 3 to 5 years old and sex­u­ally ma­ture. In the wild, the av­er­age life­span of a bald ea­gle is about 20 years, with some birds liv­ing into their 30s. The old­est bird in cap­tiv­ity lived to be al­most 50 years of age. The bald ea­gle is a large bird with a typ­i­cal wing­span of six to seven and a half feet and a body weight of nine to 14 pounds. It is re­ported that bald ea­gles mate for life un­less one of the pair dies or dis­ap­pears. It has also been noted that a pair will break up if re­peated at­tempts at breed­ing have failed.

Bald ea­gles pre­fer to perch on and nest in tall, ma­ture trees as they like to have a good view of the sur­round­ing area. The birds I pho­tographed a few days ago were in a stand of trees not far from Utah Lake. In that par­tic­u­lar stand of trees were five ea­gles in­clud­ing two im­ma­ture birds. What an amaz­ing sight. The bald ea­gle looks so stately when perched on a tree top. It is easy to un­der­stand why it is both the na­tional bird and the na­tional an­i­mal. Then, to wit­ness the bird with out­stretched wings in flight is a mo­ment that stirs the emo­tions of the won­der­ful life we have been blessed with.

As a side note, I waited an hour and a half be­hind a tele­photo lens to cap­ture the im­age of the two birds in the pic­ture.

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