By NANCY JANE KERN
DURING THE FIRST SNOWSTORM of our new year, the eagles were hiding and only crows and ravens briefly came to feed on the deer carcass in the field. The following day the sun came out on a pristine field of white with about 8” inches of sparkling snow. No deer carcass was visible. At dawn, the area crows returned and remembered where the feast was hidden and started digging down to it. Then the ravens flew in, and the well-fed crows left, taking their breakfast with them.
All these raucous birds “talk” and soon the squeaky-voiced bald eagles began to arrive. The field is ringed with oak trees with strong perches for these large birds. The eagles made a few flyovers. A red-tailed hawk grabbed a few bites and flew and was more easily intimidated by the corvids (crows and ravens). The younger first-year-old eagles are the least cautious and possibly most in need of food. They are maturing and molting feathers this year and are large and aggressive.
Bald eagle sizes range from about 9 lbs. to 15 lbs. and females are about 25% larger. The wingspan is 8’ and the length can reach 3’. First-year bald eagles have more feathers, big heads, dark eyes and beaks, and overall dark bodies even though their weight is about the same as adults. They go through molts and mottled color changes until they are adults at about 4.5 to 5 years old. Then they have the iconic white head and tail, dark body, and bright yellow eyes, beak and feet.
Our other, rarer eagle is the golden eagle. How to ID each and for more information about eagles go to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology “All About Birds” website. My sunny, white field provided a wonderful day of observations. Eagles dominated the deer carcass throughout the day and had the strength to pull most of it from the snow. Coyotes had eaten it days before and the eagles could pick thick-neck meat and rip off chunks of fat. Smaller animals and birds need this opening-up help so they can feed. I could identify at least 9 eagles by their size and color variations. Four were adults, and two seemed to be a pair and ate together, with one significantly larger, the probable female who ate first. Timid individuals watched from trees and snow for their turn. Some flew in and attacked the feeding eagles. Hence the squabbles, and challenges. It all looked fierce with eagles leaping up and striking with talons extended. Eventually, someone left.
Each winner ate and flew away with a bulging crop of venison. Who could do housework? How could I pass up this grand pageant of Mother Nature? A chance to observe our fierce national symbol in its winter setting.