The Alaska Raptor Center in Sitka treats various types of raptors that exist–eagles, ospreys, hawks, owls, falcons, kites, etc. But it seems it’s the eagles that most people are drawn to. Magnificent birds, their white heads, piercing eyes and stern personna give them a star quality few other animals can match. Of course, It doesn’t hurt that they are symbols of freedom either. I grew up in a time when bald eagles were endangered, victims of the excesses of the time. DDT, a particularly toxic insecticide was one of the primary culprits. The good news is that these magnificent birds of prey have been removed from the endangered species list and more than 100,000 exist today. Half of those can be found in Alaska and half of those take flight in southeast Alaska where Sitka is.
Before we boarded the Island Spirit for our Inside Passage cruise, we attended a morning orientation at this center where we viewed a dozen or so birds that have been injured in various ways and are unable to return to the wild. The center’s mission is to treat injured birds and return them to the wild and they are often successful. They treat between 100 and 200 birds each year. This is serious science–they treat these raptors with antibiotics, surgery, bandages, etc. Then they let those that can be released begin flying again in a controlled environment.
The star of this show was Sitka, an adult female bald eagle. The speaker asked how much attendees thought Sitka weighed. Estimates ranged from 25 – 35 pounds. She weighs 12.5 pounds. Females are the larger of the two, weighing up to 14 pounds. Males are more likely to be 10 – 12 pounds. And most of that weight is feathers. The actual skeleton of an eagle is very light. The bones are remarkably light compared to other animals’ bones of similar size.
Eagles do take mates ‘for life’, but researchers think it has more to do with their return to a specific nesting site than an attraction to each other. If an eagle cannot reproduce, its mate will find another eagle that can. It is also true that the first-born chick will oftentimes push any others from the nest as they are hatched.