The thrill of observing a bald eagle, closeup, is like watching a fireworks display. It is an awe inspiring experience one is unlikely to forget. On this Independence Day holiday, it is appropriate, then, to celebrate the bald eagle, our national bird.

The adult has a wingspan of about seven feet. While that makes for a very large bird, it does not rank in the Top 10 list of flying birds by wingspan. It is estimated that an adult can fly while lifting up to four or five pounds.

The adult bald eagle’s dark brown body is bookended by white feathers on head and tail. Piercing eyes and a razor sharp, hooked beak designed for tearing flesh make for a fierce and imposing figure.

While the bald eagle’s diet is mainly fish, it is not the best of fishers. More often than not, it would prefer to steal fish from osprey and other birds. What it doesn’t catch on its own, the bald eagle scavenges, eating carrion found along the shoreline.

Bald eagles of our oak woodlands move to cooler climes to escape the summer heat. During the late fall and winter, however, those of you who regularly walk the Blue Heron Trail may be treated to the sight of one of these majestic birds sitting high in a tree along the shoreline. You might even see it swoop down to snag a fish in the lake with its powerful talons.

There are a couple of nesting pairs around Blackhawk Lake. I’m told that these birds work in tandem to dive-bomb American coots, forcing them repeatedly underwater. When the coots are exhausted, the eagles swoop down again to seize their prey.

In 1782, our Founding Fathers chose the bald eagle to appear on the Great Seal of the United States. Over time, this magnificent bird has become an American icon, representing the spirit of freedom, the unity of a federation of states, courage, justice, and awesome military power,

Might Benjamin Franklin have preferred a different bird as symbol of our new nation? In a 1784 letter to his daughter, perhaps one written partially in jest, Franklin disparaged the bald eagle; he opined that the wild turkey would have been a better choice for our national emblem:

“I wish that the Bald Eagle had not been chosen as the representative of our country. He is a bird of bad moral character. He does not get his living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead tree, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the labor of the fishing-hawk; and when that diligent bird has at length taken a fish, and is bearing it to its nest for the support of his mate and young ones, the bald eagle pursues him and takes it from him… Besides, he is a rank coward; the little kingbird, not bigger than a sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the district… the turkey is in comparison a much more respectable bird.”

Benjamin Franklin’s comments not withstanding, the bald eagle remains today a powerful symbol of contemporary America. Enjoy your extended holiday weekend, and be safe.

Keep birding,
Robert Groos

Robert Groos is a published photographer and keen observer of nature who lives in Yosemite Lakes Park. He shares some of his outstanding images of our local feathered friends along with some tidbits of interesting facts about each. We hope you enjoy them as much as we do.

Previous posts:
Acorn Woodpecker
Oak Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
California Quail