Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle by Lisa Densmore

Location: Saranac River, New York and Bighorn River, Montana

Two summers ago, while paddling a canoe down the Saranac River in the Adirondack Park, I glided under a Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) in a tall oak tree by the riverbank. I was so excited! I grabbed my camera and began snapping pictures. It was my first chance to photograph this iconic symbol of the United States. A Bald Eagle was a rare sighting in the Adirondacks when I was a kid in the 1960’s, and though population levels are increasing, it is still a treat to see one there.

My partner, a Montanan, in the back of the canoe was less enthusiastic. He had just hooked a five-pound bass, and I was shirking my paddling duties in favor of what he termed a flying rat. In his home state, Bald Eagles were common scavengers. Now that I live in Montana too, I understand his side of the story. Bald Eagles are more common here, though they are more apt to eat a rodent than to act like one. In fact, these bold-looking symbols of freedom are really regal scavengers. They commonly survey riverbanks and open fields for their next meal, which might be fresh fish or a field mouse they’ve nabbed in their impressive talons, but they’re just as likely to fend off the Ravens from a road-kill carcass. If I were a Raven, I wouldn’t mess with a Bald Eagle. Its hooked yellow beak is specially designed for ripping into flesh.

Bald Eagle adult and nestlings © John Hunter/VIREO

Last week, while fly-fishing on the Bighorn River, I spied two Bald Eagles in a cottonwood tree. The pair was content to watch me cast a line for over two hours. Fishless, I eventually hiked back to my car, but I wondered whether they would have swooped down for a closer look if I had pulled a feisty trout from the chilly water.

Lisa Densmore

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2 Responses to “Bald Eagle”

  1. Reminds me of my first sighting of these symbolic birds. It was winter at Pahranagat National Wildlife Rufuge, NV. My son an I went on an over night trip hoping to see some. My son said he spotted one in a tree down by the lake as we were driving by on the highway to the refuge. We entered the refuge, readied our binocular and began the slow drive along the gravel road to the end of the lake where he said he had spotted one. Our excitment peaked whenwe rounded the bend and perched in the tree was our first bald eagle!

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