Eagles are truly awe-inspiring creatures to behold, with wingspans greater than that of an adult human and standing at heights equivalent to that of a child. They gracefully glide through the sky, using their exceptional vision to search for prey, and observing them in the act of hunting is an unforgettable experience.
Witnessing one of these majestic birds of prey swoop down from the sky to seize a large catch is a surreal sight. In the United States, there are only four eagle species, and the Bald Eagle and Golden Eagle call Texas their home. To learn more about their lifestyle and where to catch a glimpse of them in Texas, peruse this article.
1. Bald Eagle
- Scientific name: Haliaeetus leucocephalus
- Life span: 20-30 years
- Size: 2.5 to 3 feet (0.7 to 0.9 meters)
- Weight: 6.6 to 13,8 lbs (3 to 6.3 kg)
- Wingspan: 66 to 96 in (165 to 244 cm)
- Status: Least Concern
In the United States, the Bald Eagle reigns as the nation’s esteemed avian icon. Renowned for its regal, sweeping flights and stunning predatory prowess, this bird of prey also resorts to scavenging when times are tough, and opportunistically steals prey from other birds.
The Bald Eagle faced a lot of challenges during the 20th century, almost vanishing entirely from the American landscape. However, the population has since made an admirable recovery and now flourishes in the country it symbolizes.
This magnificent raptor is visible at bodies of water throughout the United States, ranging from the frosty expanse of Alaska to the temperate areas of northern Mexico, and most of Canada. Its body boasts a lustrous dark-brown hue, with a resplendent white head and tail, complemented by a tawny-yellow beak.
Despite the tales, “Bald” derives not from a featherless crown but from the Old English term “piebald,” meaning two-tone colouring.
The nesting behaviour of Bald Eagles in Texas is a fascinating and intricate process, marked by incredible attention to detail and highly coordinated effort. As opportunistic nesters, Bald Eagles prefer to construct their nests in tall trees that provide them with ample protection and a panoramic view of their surroundings. Their nests are typically located near large bodies of water, where the birds can feed on fish.
During the nesting season, adult Bald Eagles engage in intricate courtship displays, characterized by soaring flights and acrobatic manoeuvres that showcase their aerial prowess. Once they have chosen a suitable nesting site, they both work to construct a massive nest using a variety of materials available in their area, such as twigs, grass, moss, feathers, and other soft materials making nests measuring up to 10 feet wide and 4 feet deep, and it can weigh as much as 1,000 pounds.
Once the nest is complete, the female Bald Eagle lays one to three eggs, which the pair diligently tends to for the next several months. Both parents take turns incubating the eggs, keeping them warm and protected from the elements. After the eggs hatch, the parents provide constant care to their young, feeding them regurgitated food and keeping them warm under their protective wings.
As the eaglets grow, they become increasingly mobile and start to explore their surroundings. The parents continue to provide them with food and protection until they are old enough to fledge and leave the nest. This whole process can take several months, and it is a remarkable display of the Bald Eagle’s dedication to its young and its nest.
Bald Eagles in Texas have a varied and diverse diet, consisting of a wide range of prey that is indicative of their adaptable nature and opportunistic feeding habits. These majestic birds of prey are primarily carnivorous but are also known to scavenge off dead animals when times are tough.
The diet of Bald Eagles in Texas consists mainly of fish, which they catch by swooping down from the sky and snatching them out of the water with their powerful talons. They also prey on small mammals, such as rabbits and squirrels, and birds like ducks and geese. When prey is scarce, Bald Eagles will resort to scavenging, feeding on carrion, and even stealing food from other birds. Bald Eagles are skilled hunters, and they employ a variety of techniques to catch their prey. They use their keen eyesight to spot their quarry from great distances, and they can dive at incredible speeds to seize it with their sharp talons. They also use their impressive aerial skills to snatch prey out of the air, and they will even pursue their quarry into the water, swimming to catch fish or other aquatic prey.
The diet of Bald Eagles in Texas is not only diverse, but it is also a testament to their adaptability and resourcefulness. These magnificent birds of prey can thrive in a variety of habitats and ecosystems, and their diet reflects their ability to make the most of their surroundings.
In the 18th century, the population of Bald Eagles in the USA was estimated to be between 300,000 and 500,000 individuals. However, by the 1950s, there were only 412 pairs left in the country. Many factors contributed to the decline of the Bald Eagle population, but the rate of decline accelerated in the 20th century. In the 1920s, it was believed that Bald Eagles were stealing young lambs from farmers and kidnapping children, leading to the legal and illegal shooting of 70,000 individuals. One of the main factors contributing to their decline was the widespread use of the pesticide DDT, which became extremely popular in the 20th century. DDT was able to biomagnify in the food chains, with the Bald Eagle at the top.
When DDT enters the bird, it severely affects the bird’s ability to make eggshells, causing the eggs to collapse under the weight of the adult birds when brooding, thus preventing reproduction. Protection of the species began in 1819 with the Migratory Bird Treaty and continued with the 1940 Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, which prohibited the commercial trapping and killing of the birds.
Further restrictions were added in 1962 and 1972. In 1972, DDT was banned in the USA, and since then the population of Bald Eagles has been on a steady increase, with an estimated population of around 300,000 individuals in the USA today.
Where to look for them
The best places to look for Bald Eagles in Texas are areas near large bodies of water, such as rivers, lakes, and coastlines. Bald Eagles are not commonly found in Texas, but they can be spotted in certain areas during the winter months. Here are a few places you might be able to see them:
- Lake Tawakoni
- Caddo Lake State Park
- Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge
- Lake Livingston
- Lake Texoma
2. Golden Eagle
- Scientific name: Aquila chrysaetos
- Life span: 30 years
- Size: 33 inches (83 cm)
- Weight: 6.4 to 13.2 lb (2.9 to 6 kg)
- Wingspan: 70 to 90 in (180 to 230 cm)
- Status: Least Concern
The Golden Eagle is a truly majestic raptor that can be found across the vast expanse of the Northern Hemisphere, stretching across the continents of America, Europe, and Asia. With their dark golden-brown plumage, they exude a regal aura, befitting their name. When soaring, their striking V-shaped wing position is simply breathtaking.
They are known to hunt small mammals with deadly precision, especially in remote, open areas such as grasslands, steppes, and mountainous regions. The awe-inspiring Golden Eagle holds immense cultural significance in various Native American tribes and is revered for its courage and extraordinary strength. Possessing its feathers was believed to be a rare blessing from this mighty creature.
The elusive Golden Eagles are a rare breeding species in Texas, and their nesting behaviour is shrouded in mystery due to the lack of studies conducted. Nevertheless, Golden Eagles are known to breed in the southeastern United States, and their nesting behaviour bears resemblance to their Bald Eagle counterparts.
These magnificent birds are monogamous, forming lifelong bonds with their partners. They return to their nest site year after year, which is built and tended to by both the male and female.
Usually perched in a tall tree or on a cliff, the nest can be a big structure, measuring up to 6 feet across and 4 feet deep. Golden Eagles use an assortment of materials such as twigs, branches, moss, and grass to construct the nest, which they accumulate each year, making it increasingly larger.
The Golden Eagles in Texas usually lay 1-3 eggs per clutch in late winter or early spring, and the male and female take turns incubating the eggs, which takes about 42 days. After hatching, both parents feed and watch over their offspring, with the chicks taking flight at around 10-12 weeks old.
In Texas, Golden Eagles primarily feed on a variety of prey, including rabbits, squirrels, prairie dogs, groundhogs, and other small mammals. They are also known to hunt birds, reptiles, and occasionally, fish. Their hunting strategy is primarily dependent on their habitat, with Golden Eagles in Texas often perching on tall trees or cliffs, scanning their surroundings for prey.
When a potential meal is spotted, the Golden Eagle swoops down with incredible speed and precision, using their sharp talons to grasp and kill their prey. They are also known to steal food from other birds of prey, such as vultures and hawks, which makes them an apex predator in their ecosystem.
Golden Eagles in Texas are highly adaptable and can adjust their diet to suit the local conditions. For instance, during periods of drought or other environmental challenges, they may prey on a wider range of animals or even switch to scavenging. Their remarkable hunting skills and adaptable nature make the Golden Eagle a formidable predator, a true master of its domain.
Similar to its cousin, the Bald Eagle, the magnificent Golden Eagle also suffered a huge population decline in North America during the 20th century, due to hunting and exposure to the pesticide DDT. Presently, it is estimated that around 30,000 individuals of this striking bird remain in the United States, with a stable or slightly decreasing population trend.
In 1940, however, the United States Congress enacted the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, which outlawed the commercial trapping and killing of birds, in a bid to protect these precious creatures.
Further safeguards were put in place in 1962 and 1972 to prevent the illegal killing and poaching of the birds. In a pivotal move, the use of DDT was banned in the USA in 1972, which played a significant role in the recovery of the Golden Eagle population.
The raptor’s continued presence and recovery are a testament to the effectiveness of conservation efforts and the resilience of this remarkable bird.
Where to look for them
Golden Eagles in Texas are typically found in rugged, open habitats with scattered trees or rock formations, such as mountain ranges, canyons, and grasslands. They are particularly well adapted to live in arid environments and can be found in the western and northern parts of Texas including:
- Davis Mountains State Park
- Guadalupe Mountains National Park
- Big Bend National Park
In American Indian traditions and religion, eagles like the Golden and Bald Eagles are highly respected and revered creatures. Even in modern times in the USA, they continue to hold great significance and are viewed with pride.
For centuries, eagles have been hunted due to the perception that they pose a threat to livestock and children. They have also been subjected to various other dangers such as indirect poisoning by pesticides, trapping, and habitat destruction, which led some species to the brink of extinction during the 20th century.
Many of these dangers have been eradicated by protection laws, and the populations seems to have bounced back. Unfortunately, collisions with cars, buildings, and towers remain a significant threat to many birds of prey, including the Golden and Bald Eagles.
Nevertheless, recent years have seen an increase in eagle sightings in Texas, particularly of Golden Eagles, indicating that the state is becoming increasingly commonplace for eagles to winter and breed.
Eagles are a captivating sight to behold as they glide effortlessly through the air or perch atop tree canopies. They are often the highlight of a birdwatching excursion, even if they are commonly spotted in their natural habitat.