I love bald eagles. In Idaho, up around Coeur d’ Alene, we would go watch them in January at the lake where they went to breed. You would see dozens of them there and they are magnificent in the wild. People come from all over the world to photograph them there. I’ve also watched them in Northern Nevada in Carson City where they feed. They are a very big bird and I would not want to get attacked by one, but they are a hoot to watch. I can certainly see why they represent America. They fly free, are aggressive hunters and they strike you as a majestic.
In Virginia, a bald eagle was found alongside the road badly injured earlier this year. It has now been released back into the wild where it belongs and can roam free once again. The eagle was tenderly cared for at the Wildlife Center of Virginia for five months and last week all that love and caring finally paid off big time.
A ton of people of all ages and walks of life gathered in Albemarle County to watch the good-as-new, healed bald eagle be set free to soar the skies once more. The audience was stunned seconds after the eagle was released as it soared majestically like a champion into the trees. Ed Clark who is the co-founder and president of the center called the eagle’s progress nothing short of a miracle. “When she came in she was badly, badly beaten up,” he said. “But she’s a tough bird and a strong bird.” The bird came to them with bruised lungs and a drooping wing. She must be strong because many that are injured like that never recover. She had no trouble taking flight when she was set free into the 525-acre Walnut Creek Park.
She now joins a record number of bald eagles in the state of Virginia. The bald eagle is the symbol of America’s strength and freedom. They have been brought back from the brink of extinction thanks to widespread conservation efforts. It is illegal to hunt them or disturb their nests.
Bald eagles nest in the winter and their habitats in Virginia stretch from the Richmond area to the Chesapeake Bay. They are doing well in Virginia now. They bounced back from near-extinction in the 1960’s. The pesticide DDT tainted the fish they ate and killed many of them. In the 1970’s, there were approximately 20 nests in Virginia. Now, there are more than 1,000 Virginia nests. “I don’t think we’ve seen these kinds of numbers since Colonial times,” eagle expert Bryan Watts said.
Eagles are no longer covered by the Endangered Species Act. But they are protected by other federal laws. There are two eagles, Virginia and James, who have nested on or near Williams Island in the James River since the mid-1990s in Virginia. In recent years, two other nests have been discovered near Richmond on an island near the Boulevard Bridge and in South Richmond near Stony Point. Even more eagles nest in nearby counties, and overall, the James River eagle population represents one of the nation’s strongest areas of recovery.
Today, about 20 percent of nests are in backyards and other places near people. That’s a good sign for the long-term health of the eagle population. Wherever I have seen them, they are totally fearless and take little notice of humans hanging around. And bald eagles do not always have the white head that people so readily identify them with. Young bald eagles look quite different. They start off a chocolate brown and become a mottled brown and white in their second year. They don’t get their striking adult plumage until their fifth year.
Bald eagles also aren’t that picky about food. They’ll swoop in and catch a fish from a river or lake. But they will also eat roadkill or available food left out. And in Northern Nevada, they congregate to eat the afterbirth from cows. Gross, I know… but a fact of nature. An eagle in Virginia can weigh up to 12 pounds and spread its wings 7 feet wide. A nest, which the occupants keep enlarging over the years, typically is about 5 feet in diameter and sometimes can reach 9 feet wide and 15 feet deep while weighing 2 tons. I’d hate to have that fall on me or anything I valued.
Bald eagles are fighters. They will fight over a mate, a nest or territory. So, they aren’t what you would want for a pet. But if you are into photographing predators in the wild, the bald eagle is a great experience. I have pictures on file from Northern Idaho that are just spectacular. I am thrilled that this bald eagle recovered and was set free in Virginia. Watching them lifts your spirit and sense of freedom. A bald eagle will live for twenty years or so in the wild and I hope this female has a nice long life after all of this. They didn’t say how she got hurt, but I assume she was hit by a car. It happens and the car probably sustained more damage than the bird. This bald eagle will live to fly another day and that is great news for her and all of us.