Our national bird, the bald eagle, comes through New Mexico and much of the U.S. during the winter months. They have been spotted in the Corrales bosque, at Bosque del Apache and in many other locations throughout the state. They are very reliably found at Isleta Lakes, where one family returns every year.
This large raptor measures 30-31 inches tall and has a wingspan of up to 7 feet, and females are larger than males. They’re unmistakable when seen because of their white head and tail. They also have many beautiful shades of brown in the feathers that cover the rest of their bodies. Juvenile bald eagles look fairly unkempt, with their mottled brown coloring that won’t change completely until they reach about 4 years of age.
Bald eagles’ numbers were precarious in the second half of the 20th century. Shooting and pesticides were the two major causes of a serious decline in their population — even after they were given legally protected status. However, in more recent years their numbers have increased.
These birds are opportunistic predators, often stealing food from other birds, but just as often hunting prey with ferocious skill. They will perch on a high branch, watching carefully for an opportunity. Then they swoop down on their intended prey and snatch it up in their sharp, 2-inch-long talons. They feed heavily on fish, but if fish are unavailable they will eat birds, small mammals and carrion.
It is believed that bald eagles mate for life. When they mate and breed, they both build the nest out of sticks and then line it with softer material. They will reuse the same nest year after year, adding to it each time. They will hatch up to three eggs each breeding season and will incubate them for up to 35 days.
If you watch the skies around the bosque area, then you might be able to catch one of these majestic beauties in flight!