Bald Eagle at Rest and in Flight

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One of my ambitions when I first began to take nature photography seriously was to capture images of Bald Eagles. Back then I thought of these big raptors as rare and exotic. I no longer think of them as rare. I’ve photographed these birds on several occasions over the years but I never get jaded when I see them. Bald Eagles are magnificent.

Arizona has a small resident population of Bald Eagles and the residents are joined in the winter by some migrants. But there aren’t many of them in our state. I’ve photographed Bald Eagles in our farmlands on a couple of occasions but I’ve never been particularly pleased with the images that I obtained.

It’s a very different story in coastal Alaska. There, Bald Eagles are a relatively common sight and they often make for great images. I had a couple of opportunities to photograph these birds on our recent Alaska trip. I’m featuring images of one of them today. I’ll post images of another eagle tomorrow.

One afternoon we encountered a Bald Eagle perched on a fallen tree.

This eagle displayed the plumage of an adult: a white head and neck, a white tail, a brown body and wings, and a bright yellow beak. Eagles don’t reach full maturity until after age four with younger birds showing plumage that may be strikingly different from that of adults, depending on their age.

Bald Eagles are huge by comparison with hawks such as a Red-tailed Hawk. An adult Bald Eagle may weigh nearly 10 pounds (about 4.5 kilos). That’s about 4 times the body weight of a Red Tail. Female Bald Eagles are larger than males. This is a very large bird so I’ll hazard a guess and say that she is a female.

She sat calmly on her perch for several minutes, then took flight.

I was very fortunate in that I was able to capture a sequence of images of her in flight. You’ll notice that in some of these images the eagle’s feathers appear to be somewhat ragged. My first reaction was that she was molting, that is to say, losing feathers while replacements grow in. That may be the correct explanation but there is a second possibility.

A second possible explanation for the appearance of her plumage may be that some of her feathers were wet. Eagles do much of their foraging in and around water and the area where I photographed this bird not only abuts the Cook Inlet but it is criss-crossed with tidal streams. This eagle may have been fishing just before we encountered her and was waiting for her feathers to dry.

She flew for a few seconds, skimming the ground.

Then she landed atop a relatively small conifer, just a few meters from where I was standing. In fact, her second perch was closer to my position than was her initial perch.

Obviously, our group’s presence nearby didn’t disturb her particularly. She remained on her perch for about 20 additional minutes. She was still there when we left.

Bald Eagles, along with their slightly larger cousins, Golden Eagles, are North America’s largest raptors. They used to be a relatively common sight throughout most of the United States, but their numbers are greatly depleted by habitat loss and the heavy use of pesticides. They are a protected species and their population is increasing somewhat. Fingers crossed that this trend will continue, they are a treat to observe and photograph.

Images made with a Canon R5, Canon RF 100-500mm f4.5-7.1 IS L zoom lens, M setting (auto ISO). First five images, ISO 500, f7.1 @ 1/2000, +1/3 stop exposure compensation. Final image, ISO 320, f7.1 @ 1/2000, + 1/3 stop exposure compensation.

3 Replies to “Bald Eagle at Rest and in Flight”

  1. picpholio says:

    You were realy lucky to make these shots. You get a good impression of the powerfull wing beats at lift off.

  2. Amazing Eagle photos

  3. Very nice Steven! Always enjoy seeing Bald Eagle images!

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