White-headed Sea Eagle

Haliaeetus leucocephalusYesterday in Green-Wood I was enjoying the sun in a section of the cemetery I’d never been in before when a Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) flew overhead. Whoa! The bird was a mature adult; it takes about four years for those white feathers to come in completely on the head and tail. The look is as distinctive as a flag. The bird was flying low and I wondered if it would land nearby. It did.Haliaeetus leucocephalusIt was perched above the Crescent Water in this pine. From here it flew somewhere thattaway. When I eventually got up over the hill, there it was again. These birds are big (31″ length, 80″ wingspan), so they really stick out when up in a bare tree. I was just about to get a focus on the bird for some more pictures when it stretched out its wings. There was a crack, the branch the bird was sitting on broke and plummeted down with a crash as the bird flew away. They can weigh up to a dozen pounds, which is an awful lot for a bird.Haliaeetus leucocephalusI ran into two birders at Green-Wood’s Gothic pile entrance at 5th Ave. who saw the bird leaving the cemetery grounds in a northwesterly direction. This was the first time I’ve seen an adult specimen of the species, whose binomial translates as this post’s title (“bald” is pretty dumb see comment below), actually standing in Brooklyn.

I just read the other day that there about 150 pairs in NJ and 173 in NY. There is a breeding pair on Staten Island, or around Staten Island (recent reports of a pair nesting may be premature; they haven’t produced young over several years of “playing house”). Thoreau, who used the old “white-headed” name for these birds, said about an 1854 encounter with one: “We who live this plodding life here below never know how many eagles fly over us. They are concealed in the empyrean.” But by the 1970s, there was almost nothing to conceal: NY was down to a single pair, and they were unsuccessful at breeding. Bringing them back from the brink (often from upper Midwestern stock, btw) been a great success story, one we must build on.

9 Responses to “White-headed Sea Eagle”


  1. 2 Paul Lamb January 27, 2015 at 5:30 am

    I understand a now obsolete meaning of “bald” is “white.” I have a “piebald” Border Collie, who is black and white.

  2. 4 crazymonkeygirl January 28, 2015 at 10:38 am

    Wow. Beautiful, thanks for sharing.

    On a kind of related topic: I signed up for your 2/7 Croton Park field trip through the Brainery but now can’t make it (I am so unbelievably sad!). Will you be doing another trip anytime soon? Fingers tripled crossed! Many thanks 🙂

    • 5 mthew January 28, 2015 at 10:55 am

      O, bummer! Sorry, Virginia, but there are no plans for another Brainery trip. Alert the Brainery, though, about this; if enough people want it, who knows… Also, it’s really easy to get to Croton Point Park on MetroNorth and winter is the time to do it on own/with friends. The colder the better: ice frozen further north sends the eagles south in search of open water and fish dinners.

      • 6 crazymonkeygirl January 28, 2015 at 11:06 am

        Wow, thanks for the fast response & awesome tips, Matthew! I’ll email the Brainery & ask, though if you’re doing add’l public field trips, feel free to let me know? Just moved from SF so I’m not used to the cold yet, but to see eagles I will brave it!! Will definitely see if any friends are up for it, though it’d also be so great to join one of your groups as I’m sure you know lots more than we do about eagles. Happy post-Juno Thu! 🙂

      • 7 crazymonkeygirl January 28, 2015 at 11:26 am

        Um, just realized I’ve been writing “Happy Thu!” all day and it’s actually Wed. Sorry abt that! Storm confused my schedule. 🙂


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