Birds' Eye View: Bald eagles appearing in large numbers around Carroll

An eagle takes flight from a Westminster back yard.
An eagle takes flight from a Westminster back yard. (Chad Mathias photo, Carroll County Times)

What is dark brown and white and yellow all over, stands three feet tall, weighs up to 14 pounds and has a wing span that can reach seven feet?Its body is brown; head, neck and tail are white. The beak, which is large - massive really and hooked, and the powerful talons are yellow.

Answer: the National emblem of the United States of America - the bald eagle.


Bald eagles seem to be appearing in large numbers in and around Carroll County these days and lucky are the folks that get to see them. Chad Mathias has been graced with the presence of a magnificent adult bald eagle right in his own back yard, and he has gotten some outstanding photos of the impressive bird.

I suppose the term "large numbers" is a relative one. I don't mean to say that they have become ubiquitous like starlings or even as common as our backyard favorites like cardinals, chickadees, and tufted titmice. When settlers first came to America, bald eagles, like wild turkeys, truly did inhabit the landscape in very large numbers.


Over time, populations of both species declined considerably, due to wild game hunting, encroachment by human development of the land, and deadly chemical effects of the now-banned insecticide DDT.

By 1976, the bald eagle was designated a national endangered species by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Over time, their numbers increased, and the status was upgraded to "threatened" in 1995. In 2007, the bald eagle was removed from the federal endangered species list, and Maryland removed it from its list of threatened and endangered species in 2010.

Today, the bald eagle population is healthy and plentiful in North America. Eagles are still protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. The success of the bald eagle population represents the results of a major conservation achievement in our country.

In Maryland, the Chesapeake Bay is a big attraction for these birds. They are found year-round throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed - an area that is also important for bald eagles migrating from other parts of North America during spring and autumn. Other areas of Maryland where large numbers of bald eagles are known to roost include Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge on the Eastern Shore in Cambridge and along the Susquehanna River below Conowingo Dam.

Have you seen a bald eagle in the wild? They are a sight to behold. I was traveling the "back way through the valley" towards Baltimore one day and turned onto Garrison Forest Road from Green Spring. As I looked over to the right, I saw two huge birds on a deer carcass. One was a bald eagle for sure, and I pulled off the road to get a closer look.

As I was watching, one of the birds lifted its wings and flew off into the distance.

It was a dark bird with no white markings, but it was the same size as the eagle. I suddenly realized that the disappearing bird was an immature bald eagle. Although they grow to full size at a young age, they don't acquire their white markings until they are three or four years old. I had almost mistaken it for a large hawk.

Eagles native to Maryland usually do not migrate although they may move about when they are not nesting. Maryland's bald eagle population generally increases during the winter months when eagles move into our area from more northern regions like Maine and eastern Canada.

The bald eagle is a large raptor. In Maryland, they begin courting in December. They mate for life and build huge, bulky nests of sticks in the tops of mature trees. They choose a sight near water and at the edge of forested areas because it is not easy for them to maneuver their giant wings through the woods.

By March, they lay 1-3 eggs and incubation begins. The eagle pair must protect their eggs from the harsh weather of winter. After 5-6 weeks of incubation, nestlings hatch in April, and after several weeks (maybe 3 months) in the nest, they take their first flight. By August they are able to fish and hunt on their own.

Their favorite food is fish so they are usually found near rivers, lakes, marshes, reservoirs and other bodies of water including some seacoasts. They also eat snakes, turtles, small animals, and carrion. Eagles are known for stealing prey that has been captured by other birds. It is not a friend to the osprey.

Whether you are gazing at eagles or feeding the birds in your backyard, enjoy the festivities of this special season. Wishing you joy, health, and happiness during the holidays. May you stay safe and warm and feel the warmth of family and friends as you celebrate the season.

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