Bald eagle superpowers

The majestic predator is the national bird of the United States, chosen as a symbol of strength and freedom

 

A miracle in lightweight design

Bald eagles have thousands of feathers. They have a staggering 7,000 feathers covering their body like a suit of armour. These feathers are both lightweight and strong, thanks to their hollow structure, meaning eagle can fly fast and take down prey. The feathers also keep the bird warm in cold weather, as they interlock and overlap to trap layers of air for insulation.

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Primary feathers spread out like fingers at the wing tips to reduce drag during flight

Super vision

Their eyes are different to ours in a number of ways. Firstly, they have a pectin oculi, which is a structure found at the back of their eyes. It increases the blood supply, meaning there are not as many blood vessels covering the retina, giving them much clearer vision than mammals. They also have two focal points, enabling the birds to look both forwards and to the side. Besides this, they can see ultraviolet light and close their eyelids (the nictitating membrane) and still see!

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Eagles have a wider field of vision than humans, helping them hunt more effectively

They don’t just catch food, they fight for it

Bald eagles have the anatomy of a formidable predator, but they’re also some of the smartest thieves. They may be at the top of the food chain, using their strong talons, brilliant flying ability, stealth and prowess to catch their prey. However, it’s often the case that the birds don’t catch their own food. Bald eagles are regularly seen harassing other birds such as ospreys, herons, and even other eagles, using their size and power to steal fish. Stalking their opponent midair, the bird’s steely determination means that it will stop at nothing to get a decent meal.

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Not only are they impressive hunters, but also impressive scavengers. It is not only survival of the fittest, but survival of the most intelligent

They came back from the dead – sort of

You couldn’t go anywhere without seeing a bald eagle back in the day, they were not only surviving, but thriving all across the U.S. That was until European settlers landed and brought with them hunting and habitat destruction. In 1940 the birds gained legal protection but DDT (the wildlife-killing hostile pesticide) use was rife. It found its way into their food chain, making their eggshells thin and eagles were struggling to reproduce. In the 1960s there were just 470 breeding pairs left. After DDT was banned in the 1970s and targeted conservation action began, they made a miraculous recovery.

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Bald eagles mate for life, staying with their partners for up to 35 years

They are aerial acrobats

Bald eagles have a huge degree of control of their flight pattern. They have incredible strength and with that, comes great agility. Some individuals have even been spotted grappling midair. Pairs can often be seen grabbing each other’s legs to take them down resulting in a spectacular display of freefall with the ground hurtling towards them, only for both individuals to let go and pull up and the last minute. No one really knows why they do this, whether it is for mating or a display of dominance, their aerial agility is certainly impressive.

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Bald eagles are some of the most skilled birds out there, able to nose dive to the ground, changing course at the last minute

They may look impressive, but they don’t necessarily sound it..

Eagles circling overhead, emitting a fearsome piercing cry is a classic image from many Hollywood movies. However movie editors actually take this sound from the red-tailed hawk because in real life, an eagle’s call is weaker and less impressive. This isn’t exactly a superpower – but a cool fact nonetheless.

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The red-tailed hawk is smaller than the bald eagle but has a much more impressive cry

 

 

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Photographs: andrewngo1760Luke JonesMalcolm MannersUSFWS Mountain-PrairieRandy IharaU.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Region