By Katie Collins A symbol of freedom and independence, the bald eagle holds a meaning to many Americans like no other bird, not only because it is the country’s national bird, but in part because of what they represent; beauty, grace, instinct and more. Yet, only some people hold them to that distinguished status, working to protect and ensure their safety and well-being is safeguarded against those who lack the appropriate education regarding the eagles’ influence on humans’ lives.
“In so many ways” Virginia Kennedy, the Outreach and Development Manager of the Eagle Institute and the Delaware Highlands Conservancy said eagles affect humans’ lives beyond the scope of just being national symbols. Economically, eagles start a financial cycle as they attract thousands of people to the region, who ultimately end up supporting small businesses, and eventually, Kennedy said; those people may move here and will pay taxes. She said that she cannot “overstate the economic driver that eagles are to this region.”
Yet, at one point, the eagle was on the endangered species list because of an insecticide, DDT that nearly wiped eagles out because of its side effects. Today though, although DDT is no longer used in the United States, eagles are still considered threatened largely because of habitat decimation.
With a mission of protecting eagles, habitat, land and water, the Eagle Institute and the Delaware Highlands Conservancy merged in 2012 to further their missions, using combined resources and talents of the various staff and volunteers to protect assets that people ultimately need to survive. Kennedy said "if you’re going to protect eagles, you’re going to protect everything."
The Monitor Coordinator for the conservancy, Jamie Bartholomew said there are approximately 200 nests in the state of New York. And now, during the winter months, between 150 to 200 eagles migrate to the area from Canada because of the open waters from the region’s rivers, which enable the eagles the opportunity to fish.
With an unknown number of eagles in the area, Bartholomew said eagles do not start nesting until they are about four years old, when they start to reach sexual maturity. But, she estimated that only 50 percent of eagles make it to adulthood because of factors like predators, harsh winters and trying to find a territory.
Although bald eagles are known for their white heads and tails, they are not born with them. Prior to their white features, their coloring is brown and they are called "immatures." To the naked eye, Bartholomew said there is not a way to distinguish the birds as eagles. But, as they mature, she said the white will start to appear and they will have a darker body. But, she added that the main thing to look for is a "very blunt wing span" and they fly straight.
In the wild, if undisturbed, eagles can live up to 30 years, Bartholomew said. Female eagles are slightly larger than males, with wing spans on "average of six to seven feet," Bartholomew added. Height wise, eagles can reach two and a half feet tall and weigh eight to 14 pounds, with an ability to lift up to four pounds.
As a team, the males and females both take care of the nest and feed the young while also protecting them. They have talons that are razor sharp, with razor sharp beaks that are used to rip fish apart.
"Opportunistic" animals, Bartholomew explained that eagles’ diets consist mainly of fish and if they are "absolutely in dire need of food," eagles may even eat road kill because they will eat "whatever is convenient" possibly stealing fish from other birds and each other.
Usually, eagles do not lay more than three eggs and at that, they are not laid all at once, Bartholomew said. The eggs may be spaced out, and laid on different days. Typically, Bartholomew added, that the eggs hatch at the end of winter, normally in March.
A nonprofit organization, the Eagle Institute and the Delaware Highlands Conservancy survives mainly on membership donations, some grants, donations and the support and partnerships through the community, like the National Park Service. The conservancy offers tours, hikes and many other educational programs because a goal of the conservancy, Kennedy said, is to "get people connected to the land and waters that sustain them."
As biological beings, Kennedy said humans are "unique and we are wonderful" but, humans are "one of many" and people need to understand their own abilities uniqueness because of the space we share with other creatures. Although humans are smart and very capable, she added the scenario that if a human is in the "woods and an eagle is in the woods, guess who’s going to do better." She concluded that "humility is intensely important to our own survival and again conservation, the idea of conservation of protecting land and water; it’s not saving the earth. It’s saving ourselves because if we don’t do that, we’re a species, we’ll go extinct like any other species."
For information about the Eagle Institute and the Delaware Highlands Conservancy check out
www.delwarehighlands.org/eagles.Get in touch with the Eagle Institute at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or concerns.