Friday, July 5, 2013

Cousteau - The Regal Eagle

If you love eagles, then you are reading the right blog!  In this one I will discuss a very special eagle that I have come to know since I have been working at the World Bird Sanctuary.  His name is Cousteau and he is a White Tailed Sea Eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla).

Meet Cousteau, a White-tailed Sea Eagle

These impressive eagles can be found in small areas of Europe and northern areas of Asia.  Even though they do not have any natural predators, human activity, such as poisoning, stealing eggs, loss of habitat, and decreased food sources has forced them to become protected by organizations such as the Mull Eagle Watch in Scotland and the International Migratory Bird Act.

Adult and juvenile White Tailed Sea Eagles are visually dimorphic.  This simply means that as the juvenile ages, its plumage (feather color) changes.  Juveniles have very dark brown plumage and adults have lighter brown plumage with a completely white tail.  This process takes from 5-6 years to complete. 

As with most birds of prey, the females are about a third larger than the males. White Tailed Sea Eagles weigh from 9-12 pounds and are 27-36 inches in length.  Their wingspan is the same as the Bald Eagle’s--6-8 feet wide.

After the White Tailed Sea Eagle has become an adult, it will search for a mate.  Females normally lay 1-2 eggs, sometimes 3 eggs per clutch (a group of eggs or chicks) in a nest in a tree.  The chicks will fledge (leave the nest) at 13-14 weeks of age, but still continue to stick around the parents begging for food even though they can manage on their own.  Their diet consists mainly of fish, but will also include mammals, reptiles, birds, and carrion (dead animals).

In this photo you can see the white tail from which this species takes its name 

Cousteau was hatched in captivity at the Kansas City Zoo on April 1st, 1997, making him 16 years old this year.  The lifespan for these eagles ranges from 20-25 years in the wild, but in captivity they can reach 40-50 years old.  There are a small handful of reasons why their lifespan is longer in captivity than in the wild.  These include protection from predators, available food on a daily basis, medical attention availability if necessary, and full or partial shelter from the elements.

Cousteau has lived at the Mesker Park Zoo in Evansville, IN and the Greater Baton Rouge Zoo in Louisiana before coming to the World Bird Sanctuary in 1998.  From the spring of 1999 to the end of the show season in 2001, he was part of WBS’s educational bird show at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, VA.  Since then, he has been on display on our exhibit line.  When I or someone else he recognizes walks by his exhibit, he vocalizes and follows me/them down the exhibit line.  He is a very interesting bird with fascinating behavior!

Cousteau is available for adoption in our Adopt a Bird program.  To find out more information, call 636-861-3225.  All adoption donations are tax deductible. 

This summer Cousteau can be seen on the exhibit line at the World Bird Sanctuary, which is open daily from 8am-5pm.  Cousteau is definitely a regal eagle.  You should stop on by and visit him!

Submitted by Lisbeth Hodges, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist 

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