As common as bald eagles have become, people never seem to tire of viewing, photographing and admiring them.
All but one county, Milwaukee, had at least one active nest during 2018. These structures, some weighing more than a ton, are perennial, with the eagle pair refurbishing the structure, and sometimes constructing another nest nearby, just in case.
While Vilas, Oneida and Crawford led the way with 172, 154 and 101 nests respectively, Eau Claire (10), Chippewa (11) and Trempealeau (22) also give residents and viewers plenty to look for and at.
Bald eagles usually are not far from water and the Latin name emphasizes that point with Haliaeetus leucocephalus meaning a sea eagle with a white head.
One surprise to some is that bald eagles are as much scavengers as they are predators. Deer season, with the plethora of field-dressed deer parts and never-found deer, draws birds away from waterways.
The bald eagle is one of the largest birds we’ll see in Wisconsin, but when perched, particularly at a distance, it seems less impressive. Measured from head to tail, bald eagles can stretch 34 to 43 inches. The wingspan is most impressive, however, being 6 to 7.5 feet wingtip to wingtip.
The adults aged 4 to 5 years have a white head and tail. Before that there are blotches of white, even more under the wings.
It’s these birds without white heads that confuse many viewers, thinking they may be seeing a golden eagle when it is likely an immature bald eagle.
There are golden eagles in the Wisconsin skies in winter and sitting on large animal carcasses, sometimes alongside bald eagles. It’s the gold-lemon head feathers that give this eagle its name, golden eagle.
Mature bald eagles have a large, yellow bill; pale yellow eyes; and lemon yellow feet. Golden eagles have heavier bills, a larger head, and feathered legs.
Eagles fly with their wings flat, not held at a V as commonly seen in vultures.
Take the opportunity this winter to locate nests and watch feeding birds and common perch locations where dozens of eagles congregate each evening.
Jerry Davis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.