Last week, I got to sit in on my first federal trial in Victoria, and it was about, of all things, bald eagles.
I got some reader response from my reports about Sam Mathew, a Missouri City man charged with and found guilty of illegally possessing a baby bald eagle.
And, I guess, that shouldn't surprise me so much ... considering the bald eagle has been a national emblem since 1782 (Thankfully, Benjamin Franklin's idea about having the turkey as our national bird got overruled). And that got me thinking. We see the creature cast in silver everyday as we pull out a quarter from our pockets for the soda machine, but how much do we really know about it?
I decided to share with you my quick findings:
- Bald eagles are on a road to recovery. After only 417 nesting pairs were found in the wild in 1963, the birds made the endangered species list in 1967. Thankfully, they didn't stay there. They bounced back in 2007 and were actually "delisted" when they reached more than 9,000 breeding pairs, the largest bald eagle population since post World War II.
- There were 156 breeding pairs in the Lone Star State as of 2007. Florida had the most with 1,033 and the District of Colombia and Rhode Island had the least with only one breeding pair. View a map here.
- Eagles mate for life, and they typically live for 15 to 25 years in the wild.
- Each year, they grow their nests, which may reach 10 feet across and weigh half a ton.
- Young eagles fly within three months and are on their own once they're reached four-months-old.
- They live near estuaries, large lakes, reservoirs and rivers.
The species, like many others, was threatened by DDT, a pesticide that contaminated their fish and made it hard for them to produce strong-shelled eggs. Now, they face a new danger. The Houston Chronicle reported in April that seven bald eagles died in East Texas after colliding with power lines. Officials said the transmission wires were too narrow for the birds' 6- to 7-foot-wide wingspan. Some companies are working to put up raptor guards that would combat the problem.
On a happier note, The Institute of Wildlife Studies has a birds' eye view of bald eagles in their natural habitat. You can watch a stream of their nests in California and chat with other bald eagle enthusiasts here.
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