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Birds of the Western Slope January 13, 2016

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Photo by Pat Sunderland This bald eagle was perched in a cottonwood overlooking Confluence Park in Delta earlier this month.

Sam

Allen says, "Quick ...look at the pasture elm ... big bird!" I snatch the binoculars from the dining room table -- Big Bird! The elm is a good quarter mile away but I can easily see the eagle's bright white head. Now it maneuvers around ...there's the white tail. What a treat for us! There's a smaller bird on a lower branch, but it decides to leave and flies off to the west. It's hawk-shaped but it looks so small. Well, of course! Compared to the eagle.

Bald eagle measures over 30 inches long with a wingspan of 80 inches. I recall reading in "Sibely's Guide to Birds" that the bald and the golden eagles are not closely related, although their measurements are very similar, and that both juveniles have longer tail feathers than the adults. Interestingly, second-year juveniles retain some of the longer feathers and I realized that this could be a clue to some of the "mystery" birds that I've seen. Eagles don't get adult plumage until their third year.

When I was child, bald eagles were in zoos thanks to our over-use of chemicals, traps and hunting. Happily, now with the help of dedicated humans, they've become "common." I've seen them at our reservoir, gliding down the Gunnison River canyon near Gunnison, and along the Gunnison River just out of north Delta. We often take the Trap Club Road, and a few years ago there was regularly a bald eagle perched above the water. We named him "Sam" and I think of him every time I see a bald eagle. We miss him.

The beak is bright yellow and functions as a tearing device. There's an "eyebrow" that acts as a sunshade, although it makes the bird appear to be angry.

Bald eagles are not only carnivorous fishing birds, they're also scavengers. They're known to steal fish from osprey and other raptors, scavenge dead or dying fish along the beach or small mammals along the road.

But now our eagle takes flight heading for the reservoir. We wish him well.

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Surface Creek
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Birds of the Western Slope, Evelyn Horn
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