Brooklyn Boro

Brooklyn Bird Watch: June 20

Bald Eagle. Scientific Name: Haliaeetus leucocephalus

June 20, 2023 Joseph Palmer
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With June 20 being National Bald Eagle Day, Brooklyn Bird Watch thought it might be appropriate, especially for a newspaper named after the great bird, to commemorate the Bald Eagle.

Although the Bald Eagle is surely one of the most loved, majestic, and powerful raptors on the planet, along with its special status as the United States of America’s national bird, there are smaller raptors that are faster, and probably even more feared, such as the Peregrine Falcon and the Red-Tailed Hawk. One reason for the distinction and regardless of its reputation like the Osprey for being an excellent catcher of fish, the Bald Eagle is also considered almost as much a scavenger as it is a bird of prey, whereas the Falcons and the Hawks, for example, almost exclusively are programmed to hunt down and kill all of their food.

Although, as far as we know, a Bald Eagle has never been spotted in Brooklyn Bridge Park, a juvenile Bald Eagle was spotted flying over the Brooklyn Bridge back in 2012, and the event was reported (with photos) by the New York Post.

A Bald Eagle sighting in a cityscape like New York does happen, but not that often. The people who spotted the eagle noticed it did not have the typical crown of white feathers, so the photos taken were sent to the Cornell Ornithology Lab where it was confirmed that it was a juvenile Bald Eagle, probably visiting.

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s “eBird” site, although there have been 1.7 thousand sightings of this majestic bird reported in Brooklyn since the beginning of the year, it is in reality rare when the great bird makes the borough of Brooklyn it’s home.

In fact, it is so rare that in January of this year when it was discovered that a pair of Bald Eagles were nesting in Park Slope, the event was noted by the local CBS New York Channel 2, and written about by Matt Stieb in New York Magazine.

Stieb wrote: “In Brooklyn, at least, there is some good bird news: Over the past month or so, a breeding pair of bald eagles have set up on Ruffle Bar island, with one of them hanging out in Prospect Park. Since early January, day-trippers to the borough’s iconic park have been thrilled to see the eagle perching in trees, flying over the lake, and chasing down herons and gulls. The local birds have been less excited about that last part.”

A bald eagle surveys the water while flying over the Des Moines River, Sunday, Jan. 11, 2009, below the Lake Red Rock dam near Pella, Iowa. Photo: Charlie Neibergall/AP

Sometime earlier Brooklyn Bird Watch highlighted a fascinating fact about how film makers preferred to use the high pitched scream of the Red-Tailed Hawk as the standard to represent a bird of prey in a film, no matter what species might be visually depicted.  From one of the blogs on the Eagle Wing Tours website posted two days before National Bald Eagle Day last year, we found an interesting comparative description of the Bald Eagle and the Red-Tailed Hawk.

“They sound different in the movies. When we think of the sound a bald eagle makes, we imagine a loud, piercing screech that echoes far and wide, which is nothing like their actual vocalization. Hollywood has decided that the actual wimpy twitter of this American icon isn’t cool enough for the movies, and often switch it for the call of the red-tailed hawk.”

I remember many years ago I was walking some distance from an Eagles’ nest in a Nature Reserve in Northwest Florida. I had been sent to see if I could get a photo of a new pair of eagles that had been reported to have made their home in one of the super tall pine trees in the park. I was still some distance from the group of trees I was told was where they had built their nest.  I suddenly got excited because I saw the familiar wing flap in the distance; perfect timing I thought. As the Bald Eagle approached I heard it calling, probably letting its mate know it was on the way, and I remember thinking that the sound was not so thrilling, and although I didn’t think of it as a “wimpy twitter”, there was definitely nothing intimidating about it, instead of it being something like, “don’t mess with me I’m one of the greatest predetors in the universe,’ it sounded more like, “Honey I’m home.” Which makes at least a dab of sense, in that Bald Eagles mate for life and share nesting responsibilities.

I guess the best way to deal with this raptor screaming thing is for you the reader to listen to each one for yourself and decide what you think. Here is a recording, via of the sound the Bald Eagle makes, and a recording of the Red Tailed Hawk’s classic raptor scream.

Cincinnati Zoo’s Sam the Bald Eagle lands on the arm of the handler during the national anthem prior to a baseball game between the Chicago White Sox and the Cincinnati Reds in Cincinnati, Saturday, May 6, 2023. Photo: Aaron Doster/AP

While we’re talking about the Bald Eagle we may as well relay some other interesting facts about this magnificent bird that has its own national day of recognition.

  • Rather than do their own fishing, Bald Eagles often go after other creatures’ catches.
    Even the national bird will play sometimes with plastic bottles and one observer saw a group of six passing a stick around in mid-air for no apparent reason.
  • They also have a 340-degree field of view (compared to our measly 180 degrees) and have both monocular and binocular vision. This allows them to use each eye individually or together! They can see about 5 fives farther than a human. They can see a mouse move from 3 miles away.
  • There are several courtship rituals they may use to test their potential mate, but the coolest is the cartwheel courtship flight, aka the death spiral! During this spectacular ritual they grasp each other’s talons in flight and somersault toward the earth.


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