Thursday, February 4, 2010

Visit of the Winter Bald Eagles to Kodiak

It’s that time of the year when the Bald Eagles come to town. Yes, it is our food they want. Well, not our food, the canneries' food. I hear there can be close to 200 of them in cold winters. This year has been tremendously warm, so their numbers seem less than prior years to me...but it is still early. Take a look at my You Tube for Sunday's walk by downtown and the canneries.

These are not tiny birds. They are up to 3 feet tall, with over a 7 foot wingspan for the larger females. We walked by one last spring standing on a whale bone whose head came up to my chest. When you turn and see that beak close to your heart, the surprise made it skip a beat or two.

Most weigh well over 10 pounds; that’s the weight of Raton, the small dog you might see in some of our pictures. I've heard up to 15 pounds and I think that is pretty accurate. Don’t ask me how they can sit on those thin branches, but they do. And it's not bony weight; their skeleton weights only 5-6% of their total weight. Their 7,000 feathers weigh twice that much. The juvenile brown ones look bigger than the adults. I don’t know if they really have more muscle or it’s just that their feathers are more “fluffed up”, making them look bigger. Both are relatively fast, 30 mph on a level flight. But they don't use much energy; they are experts a flying on wind currents, only occasionally batting their wings as they glide through the sky. The internet says they don't pick up animals much more than 4 pounds, but I think everyone has seen one catch a salmon that is closer to 7 pounds. With a ten pounds prize, the eagle might not be able to rise above the water and might not be able to drop the catch off from the hooks in its talons. Unfortunately, both the eagle and the fish will then meet a sad ending.

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