Thursday, April 18, 2024
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Science & NatureWhat is That?What Is That … a Bald Eagle or a Golden Eagle?

What Is That … a Bald Eagle or a Golden Eagle?


Rarely does a single book significantly alter the course of history, but Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring did exactly that.  Its publication in 1962 persuaded governments to ban DDT and spurred changes in the laws to better protect our air, land, and water. Instrumental in launching the environmental movement in North America, Carson’s book is one of the landmark books of the twentieth century.   We credit Silent Spring with the return of the bald eagle to White Lake.

After a drastic decline in numbers during the mid-twentieth century, the bald eagle is recovering and now breeding in Ontario.  Recently, bald eagles have returned to White Lake too.  We first saw one at the cottage in 2014, and have seen them every year since.

The bald eagle is the largest raptor in eastern North America. Weighing up to 4 kilograms, with their distinctive white head and tail feathers, large adult bald eagles are difficult to miss as they soar over the bay or sit high in the limbs of an old white pine near the water’s edge.  This picture, clearly an adult bald eagle, was taken at the cottage on August 31st.


The second photograph, in which the adult bald eagle appears to be flying at the camera, was taken on May 27th this year.


Bald eagles eat a variety of small mammals and fish, as well as carrion.  After catching a meal, the bald eagle will typically sit high up on a tree limb to devour its food.


Lorimer has observed that juvenile bald eagles are often mistaken for golden eagles, and that was certainly true for us.  Back in 2014 we were so excited to think we had both bald and golden eagles on Three Mile Bay.  They share the name ‘eagle’ and adults are similar in size, but they are not closely related.  The adult golden eagle, has a smaller head and bill than the bald eagle, and always has a dark body without white markings.  One author described the golden eagle as ‘the king of birds, majestic in flight, regal in appearance … and crowned with a shower of golden hackles about its royal head’.  Sadly, we do not have golden eagles at White Lake.  According to our books, golden eagles could be here in the winter, but we are not.

Eventually we learned, with the help of experts at that juvenile bald eagles are brown.  As they mature, bald eagles develop mottled brown/white heads and bellies.  By four years of age, their colouring is very similar to that of the adult including the adult’s yellow eyes, yellow bill and yellow legs and feet.  These brown bald eagles would be two or three years old.

BaldEagle4 BaldEagle5

We have used several different resources to learn about bald eagles and golden eagles including: Sibley’s Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America; Lorimer’s Ontario Birds; and,  Our favourite book is Chris Earley’s Hawks & Owls of Eastern North America in which he provides helpful charts comparing similar species for identification purposes.




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