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The Bald Eagle is a notorious thief and bully. Benjamin Franklin was quite outspoken about the negative qualities that the eagle harbored and he was not happy with it being made the national bird and state emblem of the new United States of America. Franklin would have favored the canny, and tasty, Wild Turkey. Be that as it may our nation has been represented by the majestic eagle since 1782. Actually, Franklin wrote to his daughter well after the eagle was made the symbol of the United States, regarding the use of the eagle on the logo for an organization called the Society of the Cincinnati, a group of revolutionary war veterans. In that letter he speaks disparagingly of the eagle and rather glowingly of the Eastern Kingbird, Osprey, and (Wild) Turkey. But Mr. Franklin may have understated the case. The eagle is quite a builder with nests often ten feet deep and nine feet across weighing more than 2000 pounds. Nests are almost always within a couple hundred yards of open water. They are good parents and do, in fact, hunt their own food most of the time. The use of the eagle by the 1782 congress was really a carry-over from their admiration of the eagle-festooned Roman Empire. It copied the Romans use of the Golden Eagle rather than specifically glorifying the American Bald Eagle.
The Bald Eagle sexes look the same in their plumage but the female is up to one-quarter again the size of a male. That is true in most birds of prey – the female is generally larger. Bald Eagles are widespread over North America. They are in general a fish eagle; with almost 60% of their food being fish. They do eat ducks and geese when they are available and easy to obtain and fish are not readily available. If fish are available they will make up to 90% of the eagles diet. They will collect fish from waterfalls, turbine outflows, shallow waters, and those that swam (too slowly and casually) near the surface – they also collect dead fish anywhere they find them. As fish populations have declined in many coastal areas the opportunity to feed on fish has diminished, especially in areas where there are kelp beds. The eagles have begun to eat cliff and island nesting sea birds in many of these locations. Sea birds, generally pelagic/oceanic birds, such as puffins, guillemots, and especially murres have become a usual prey item now that their standard fish fare has declined. Adults can be taken in the air at the jam-packed nesting sites, tunnel nesters like puffins and shearwaters can be dug out, and fat and oily youngsters can be plucked off the cliff edges with ease. An attack by an eagle at a nesting cliff can cause many young to plummet from the cliffs to the water or rocks below. In many areas this is a new and significant threat to the sea birds.