Saturday, October 27, 2012

Sanibel The Sensational Bird

Today I want to introduce you to Sanibel.  She is a beautiful Bald Eagle.  She also just happens to be the national symbol for the United States of America.  Once you meet her you will definitely fall in love with her just like I did!
Sanibel - a big favorite with everyone
Sanibel was hatched in the wild on Sanibel Island, Florida.   As a juvenile, she was struck by a vehicle and sustained permanent damage to her right wing, which had to be partially amputated.  She was then transferred from a rescue center in Florida to the World Bird Sanctuary several years ago. 

Sanibel’s “personality” seems to rub off on those that handle and care for her.   As compared to other Bald Eagles I have handled, she has a very mellow personality.  If she has any quirks, she does seem to favor female more than male handlers.   Her favorite foods are fish, chicken, and her all-time favorite—rabbit!

There are northern and southern sub-species of the Bald Eagle.  Northern sub-species are larger than the Southern.  Sanibel is a Southern, since she is originally from Florida. 

The Bald Eagle is native only to North America.  Bald Eagles got their name from the white color on their head.  The term “balde” means white in Old English.  They are not actually bald.   Both males and females look the same when considering their plumage (feather color). 
Norbert at 3 years old - note the beginnings of white head and tail feathers
The differences between juvenile (young) and adult Bald Eagles are, however, very different.   For their first year of life, juveniles have all dark brown feathers with dark brown eyes and brown/black beaks.  Second and third year birds develop white feathers on their breasts, and those same feathers on fourth year birds then start to change back to dark brown again.  It will generally take about five years for the juvenile to change into adult plumage.  Over those years the head and tail feathers will change from brown to white.  Their eye and beak color will change to yellow.
Clark - entering his fifth year - note the white on head and tail
The Bald Eagle’s lifespan ranges from 20 to 25 years in the wild and 40 to 50 years in captivity (Sanibel is 22 years old this year).  Their wingspan ranges from six to eight feet, with the females having a larger wingspan.  In most birds of prey the females are larger than the males.  However, a northern male may be the same size or a bit larger than a southern female.  This is because northern species are larger than southern species.  Their diet ranges from small mammals, small birds, carrion (dead animals), to fish--which is generally their diet mainstay.  Bald Eagles are in the Fish Eagle genus after all!

Bald eagles build the largest nest of all birds of prey!  It is astounding to see one!  They mate for life, and each year they will return to the same nest (if it hasn’t been destroyed by weather or other causes) and add to it, so each year it can grow and grow!   The largest nest ever recorded was found in Florida.  It was over 10 feet wide, over 20 feet deep and weighed almost 3 tons!  Bald Eagles will generally lay from one to three eggs in a clutch (group of eggs).

In the early 1930’s the Bald Eagle population had decreased dramatically, due to the mistaken perception that eagles were predators of livestock.  Many Bald Eagles were shot by ranchers and farmers who thought they were protecting their flocks.  Also, many succumbed to poisoned carcasses put out as bait for wolves and coyotes; some were shot by people who thought it was great sport to take a shot at anything that flies.  So severe was the drop in population that people began to notice, and the Bald Eagle Act was passed in the 1940’s.  This act basically states that they are protected and no harm or disturbance could be targeted toward them.  It is now illegal for people to possess even a feather from a Bald Eagle, with the exception of some Native American tribes, where the Bald Eagle is part of their religious ceremonies.

After enactment of the Bald Eagle Act the populations began to recover, but around the same time DDT (dichloro- diphenyl- trichloroethane) had been developed for pesticide use in agriculture.  Unfortunately DDT had adverse effects on many animals, but most dramatically--birds.  It affects the calcium formation in eggshells. When birds, even Bald Eagles, would sit on their eggs, their weight would crush them because the shells were so thin.  Fortunately in the late sixties and early seventies several states put the Bald Eagle on the Endangered Species List to protect it further.  In 1972, DDT was banned in the U.S. After a thirty-five year recovery period, and due in good measure to the efforts of many conservation and rehabilitation organizations such as the World Bird Sanctuary, the Bald Eagle was finally taken off the Endangered Species List in 2007. 

The Bald Eagle, our cherished national symbol, is still protected to this day by the Bald Eagle Act. 
Like all the birds at WBS, Sanibel enjoys soaking in her water tub
Above and below you can find some pictures of Sanibel bathing.  It is such an awesome sight to see her bathe!   She really makes a big splash, even in the hearts of those who work with her on a daily basis. 
....and then, of course, there's a big splashy bath
Sanibel is available for adoption in our Adopt a Bird program.   To find out more information about our Adopt A Bird program call 636-861-3225 or visit our website.  All adoption donations are tax deductible. 

This summer Sanibel has been performing at Grant’s Farm (on display and in the bird show) in Grantwood Village near St. Louis, Missouri.  Sanibel is a very beautiful bird.  You should stop on by and visit her! 

Submitted by Lisbeth Hodges, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

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