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Studer, Jacob Henry, 1840-1904. / Birds of North America

Plate I. The white-headed or bald eagle. (HaliaĆ«tus leucocephalus.),   p. [1]

Page [1]

Popular History.
The White-headed or Bald Eagle. (Haliadus leucocePhalus.)
THIS noble bird being the adopted emblem of our beloved Re-
public, it is first introduced to the kind reader; and he is indeed
fully entitled to a particular notice, as he is the most beautiful
of his tribe in North America.
The Bald Eagle has long been known to naturalists, being com-
mon to both Continents, and has occasionally been found in very
high northern latitudes, as well as near the borders of the torrid
zone, chiefly in the vicinity of the sea or on the shores and cliffs
of lakes and large rivers. His food consists chiefly of fish, of
which he seems to be very fond, but he will not refuse, when
driven by hunger, to regale himself on a lamb or young pig; he
will even, " in hard times," snatch from a vulture the carrion
which he is feeding.
The ardor and energy of the Bald Eagle might awaken a full
share of deep interest, were they not associated with so much
robbery and wanton exercise of power, for he habitually despoils
the Osprey or Fish-hawk of his prey. Of the singular manner in
which he does this, Alexander Wilson, in his work on North
American birds, says:
"1 Elevated on a high dead limb of some gigantic tree, that com-
mands a wide view of the neighboring shore and ocean, he seems
calmly to contemplate the motions of the various feathered tribes
that pursue their busy avocations below-the snow-white Gulls,
slowly winnowing the air; the busy Tringae (Sandpipers) coursing
along the sands; trains of Ducks, streaming over the surface; silent
and watchful Cranes, intent and wading; clamorous Crows, and
all the winged multitudes that subsist by the bounty of this vast
liquid magazine of nature. High over all these hovers one whose
action instantly arrests his whole attention. By his wide curvature
of wing and sudden suspension in the air, he knows him to be the
Fish-hawk, settling over some devoted victim of the deep. His
eye kindles at the sight, and balancing himself with half-opened
wings on the branch, he watches the result. Down, rapid as an
arrow from heaven, descends the distant object of his attention,
the roar of his wings reaching the ear, as it disappears in the deep,
making the surges foam around. At this moment, the eager looks
of the eagle are all ardor, and leveling his neck for flight, he sees
the Fish-hawk once more emerge struggling with his prey and
mounting in the air with screams of exultation. These are the
signals for our hero, who, launching into the air, instantly gives
chase, and soon gains on the Fish-hawk; each exerts his utmost
to mount above the other, displaying in these rencounters the most
elegant and sublime aerial evolutions. The unincumbered Eagle
rapidly advances, and is just at the point of reaching his opponent,
when, with a sudden scream, probably of despair and honest exe-
cration, the latter drops his fish; the Eagle, poising himself for a
moment, as if to take a more certain aim, descends like a whirl-
wind, snatches it in his grasp ere it reaches the water, and bears
his ill-gotten booty silently to the woods."
Dr. Franklin is rather severe on this emblem of our National
Union, He says:
" For my part, I wish 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 upon some dead tree, where, too lazy to fish for him-
self, he watches for the labors of the Fishing-hawk, and when
that diligent bird has at length taken a fish, and is bearing it to his
nest for the support of his mate and young ones, the Bald Eagle
pursues him, and takes it from him. With all this injustice,
he is never in good case, but like those among men who live by
sharping and robbing, he is generally poor, and very often lousy.
Besides, he is a rank coward; the little King-bird, not bigger than
a sparrow, attacks him boldly, and drives him out of the district.
He is, therefore hy no means a proper emblem for the brave and
honest Cincii rlati of America, who have driven out all the King-
birds from our country, though exactly fitted for the order of
knights which the French call Chevaliers d'Industrie."
The Falls of Niagara are one of his favorite haunts, on account
of the fish caught there, and the attraction presented by the nu-
merous remains of squirrels, deer, and other animals, which perish
in attempting to cross the river above the cataract.
The nest of this species is generally fixed on a very large and
lofty tree, often in a swamp or morass, and difficult to ascend. It
is formed of large sticks, sods, earthy rubbish, hay, corn-stalks,
rushes, moss, etc., and contains, in due time, two eggs of about
the size of a goose egg and of a bluish white color. The young
are at first covered with a whitish or cream-colored down and have
light bluish eyes. This cream color changes gradually into a
bluish gray; as the development of the feathers advances, the light
blue eyes turn by degrees to a dark hazel brown; when full grown,
they are covered wholly with lighter or darker brown feathers, un-
til after the third year, when the white of the head and tail grad-
ually appears; at the end of the fourth year he is perfect and of an
appearance as seen on our plate, his eyes having changed to a
bright straw color.
The Bald Eagle is three feet long, and measures from tip to tip
of the wing about seven feet. The conformation of the wing is
admirably adapted for the support of so large a bird; it measures
two feet in breadth on the greater quills and sixteen inches on the
lesser; the larger primaries are about twenty inches in length and
upward of one inch in circumference where they enter into the
skin; the broadest secondaries are three inches in breadth across
the vane; the scapulars are very large and broad, spreading from
the back to the wing, to prevent the air from passing through,
Another range of broad flat feathers, from three to ten inches long,
extends from the lower part of the breast to the wing below for the
same purpose, and between these lies a deep triangular cavity; the
thighs are remarkably thick, strong, and muscular, covered with
long feathers pointing backward. The legs are half covered be-
low the tarsal joint . the soles of the feet are rough and warty.
The male is generally three inches shorter than the female; the
white on the head and tail is duller, and the whole appearance less
formidable; the brown plumage is lighter, and the bird himself is
less daring than the female, a circumstance common to all birds of

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