Subadult Bald Eagles

Yesterday was the day of the bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). Near our house and while hiking at Baum Lake I saw several juvenile and adult bald eagles – more than usual. One young eagle kept circling overhead and then would swoop down close enough that I could hear its feathers shifting in the air above my head. Another I photographed in a tree and then decided to wait until it flew. After TWO HOURS it finally took off and I did get nice flight pictures (which I will share in another post). What a great day!

A bald eagle does not display its adult plumage until its fourth or fifth year. Until then I often find it difficult to determine the age of the young eagle. Eye color, beak color, presence of an eye stripe and the amount of white on the belly, tail and covert feathers are field marks. Each of the first four years is supposed to be distinctive. I still get confused.

For example, take the beak. The first and second year the beak is black and the third and fourth year the beak is yellow. So if it is half yellow and half black? The eye of a juvenile is black, the second year the eye is gray or whitish while three and four-year olds have yellow eyes. So what about a yellow beak with a dark eye? To me it is not clear-cut. Of course, one must also consider the other markings, but that sometimes only further confuses the situation. The maturation of the plumage is gradual and not as clear-cut as we novices would wish.

These bald eagle pictures were taken yesterday and show some of the juvenile beaks and eyes compared to an adult. In conjunction with all the markings I have noted my best estimation of the birds’ ages.

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