Bald eagles are becoming more and more common in West Virginia.
Bill Kurczak of Pleasant Valley snapped a photo of some bald eagles grabbing breakfast Christmas morning.
“My neighbor Norm Kalob knocked on my door early on Christmas morning, and said I have something to show you,” Kurczak wrote in an email. “As we stepped out onto the deck, he pointed across the river to a pair of eagles having a Christmas breakfast on a rather large fish.”
Kruczak said the pair spent the next four hours flying and eating around Tygart Valley River, leaving the area around noon.
Michael Book, founder and executive director of the West Virginia Raptor Rehabilitation Center, was able to give some more information on the nation’s national bird.
Adult bald eagles have distinctive white heads and brown bodies, while baby and adolescent bald eagles are brown all over. Females are generally larger than males and usually have larger beaks. This is also true with other birds of prey.
The birds usually nest when they are a few years old, but throughout their adolescence, they like to wander. Once they settle down, they will pick a territory.
“They’ll take a territory, and stay there to raise their young,” Book said. “They’re very territorial. Within a couple miles, or three miles, or even more, they’re not going to be right next to each other, like osprey are.”
Bald eagles typically have between one and two offspring. They will start to fly a bit in June. They will stay home while they perfect their fishing skills through September, and then they’ll be off on their own, Book said.
Book said that there were two strong possibilities for the identity of this particular bald eagle pair.
First, there is a nesting pair that has lived on Tygart Lake for around three years. They could have decided to come down to the river for their Christmas meal.
“They would still be in their territorial range,” Book said. “For them to fly from Tygart Lake would not be a large task.”
The other possibility is that they are a wandering pair, still in their adolescence.
However, either way, the birds are almost definitely a pair, and not two independent birds, Book said.
“Eating off the same fish, it’s going to be less likely that they don’t have some familiarity with each other,” Book said. “It could be the pair from Tygart Lake, or it could be a pair that were traveling together, and they just decided to grab some food.”
This winter has been a mild one so far, and so food hasn’t been as scarce as in past years, Book said. Because fish aren’t scarce, it is even less likely that birds who don’t know each other would share a meal.
And bald eagles have food preferences just as people do.
“We had Thunder for 21 years, and her favorite fish was catfish,” Book said. “But with wild birds, they’re probably no different than people. They probably have a preference, but they won’t pass up a meal just because it isn’t what they prefer. They never know when they’re going to get their next meal.”
The bald eagle Thunder was with the WVRRC until she passed away Dec. 21 of this year.
Book said there is still a lot that isn’t known about bald eagles or other birds of prey.
“We don’t know what they do,” Book said. “We don’t have enough birds with transmitters on them that we can make statements about the species in general.”
Book also said that people who see a bald eagle or bird of prey that lets them approach it should be careful.
“Any bird you can approach very closely, usually there’s something wrong with it,” Book said. “A bird of prey like a bald eagle, you don’t want to go up to it unless you know what you’re doing. It can crush your bones.”
Book said that the real concern with birds of prey is their talons. With other birds, the beaks are a bigger concern.
”They can be dangerous, so caution is the way to go,” Book said. “If it’s a bird of prey like an eagle, we have volunteers who would want to try to catch an inured bald eagle.”
If you should come across a bird of prey, Book recommends you contact the WVRRC or anther similar facility. The WVRRC may be reached at 304-366-2867.
If you find a smaller bird, Book said that you can put it in a cardboard box, and call for advice. He still recommends calling the WVRRC because veterinarians don’t typically deal with wild birds. If it is a small bird that is uninjured but has simply fallen from its nest, you can pick it up and put it in the branches of a nearby tree, he said.
Email Colleen S. Good at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @CSGoodTWV.
Bald eagles are becoming more and more common in West Virginia.
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