A Very, Very Damp Bald Eagle

Up on Lake Ontario this past August the whole campground was buzzing with the news. There was a Bald Eagle in the area! Several of the fishermen had spotted it, or claimed they had spotted it (you never can be too sure when it come to fishermen and their fish stories). My parents had even claimed to see it flying by on a number of occasions. They had spotted it from the porch. The first conversation actually went something like this:

“What’s new?”

“Your father and I saw a Bald Eagle today!”

“That is cool, where?”

“On the porch.”

“There was a Bald Eagle sitting on the porch!”

“No! It was over the lake, why would it want to sit on our porch?”

As the saying goes, ask a silly question. But regardless of exactly where my mother was positioned when she spotted it, she had seen a Bald Eagle and as a non-fishing individual her word could be trusted to the fullest.

Labor Day weekend came around and I had my camera at the ready, but Bald Eagle could not be seen. Sunday was actually a pretty miserable day, rain coming down in buckets most of the day, making visibility difficult, let alone flying. Not many birds of any kind had ventured out. Sometime after lunch, sitting on the edge of the porch with my feet up and starting to be lulled to sleep by the steady sound of rain on the roof, I noticed a large fluttering movement. Seemingly out of nowhere, an enormous bird settled down on the top of the telephone pole crossbar.

Quick confirmation with the long lens indicated it was one very wet and miserable looking Bald Eagle. It must have been pretty tired to decide to rest on that spot, totally exposed to the elements which were still on full blast. It moved around and adjusted, but the Eagle must have perched on that pole for about twenty minutes before it finally spread its wings and launched back into flight.

When I got home and examined the photos on my computer, two things became apparent. 1. This Eagle was really very wet. Poor thing. You almost looked like you could have wrung out its feathers. 2. Its coloring is a bit off. The head was white with some brown splotches. The beak was yellowish where it met the Eagle’s face. The underbelly of the bird also had a lot of white feathers showing. So what was wrong with the Bald Eagle?

The answer is nothing. Bald Eagles take several molts, effectively several years, before they acquire their adult appearance that we recognize so clearly. After they develop from the juvenile stage, Bald Eagles have a “subadult” phase. In both the juvenile and subadult stages Bald Eagles can be mistaken for their brown cousins, Golden Eagles.

As you can see from the pictures of my very damp friend, I think it was only a molt or maybe two away from the full adult plumage, with only some spotting of white on its wings and only white feathers starting to become apparent on its head.

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