On one of their trips to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, the McGills ventured out on the beach of Lake Superior to capture the Lake on one of it's wilder days. While approaching the shoreline, Teresa spotted the white head of a mature Bald Eagle. Slowly advancing she was able to shoot the majestic creature as it threw itself into the air with it's lunch clutched in it's long talons. Even this mighty Bald Eagle gets harassed by the pesky seagulls.
This first year Bald Eagle paid a visit at the McGill's Eagle blind (a 1955 Gem travel trailer). Teresa was able to capture the vastness of it's wingspan as it landed near the blind. The young Bald Eagle continued to stay within their cameras' range for the next twenty minutes or so. It ambled through the carrion pile looking for some juicy morsel to eat.
These four photos are of Ripper a fifth year American Bald Eagle whom Teresa photographed during the winter months. She and her husband, Michael the videographer, spent ten to twelve hours at least once a week in a 4x6 blind on a farm in Northern Michigan during the winter of 2006-2007. This majestic raptor came several different times throughout the winter to feast at the carrion pile. This time the sun shone on this beautiful Bald Eagle It helped hightlight the beauty of his feathers. They are so iridescent they look like they were painted on.
Here are two photos of Ripper, the Bald Eagle who frequently visited the McGills, during a winter storm. The winds were 35-40 mph with windchills of twenty below. It seemed the more adverse the weather conditions the more these Bald Eagles thrived on it.
It's amazing to watch to the interaction of the Bald Eagle and the common Raven. The level of tolerance that the Bald Eagle displays is unbelievable. The Ravens pull the tails of these mighty raptors like the little bullies on a playground. Teresa has written a children's story based on the antics of these intelligent creatures.
The Stages of Plumage of the American Bald Eagle
These are photos I have taken in the last thirteen years we have been researching the American Bald Eagle. It was spotting a juvenile bald eagle in the wilds that helped trigger our passion for Michigan wildlife and these majestic raptors. We have been privileged to go with the research team from Clemson University that worked on a fifteen year study checking the toxin levels and banding the eaglets throughout Michigan. Then we met farmer, Jim Habasco, who has been putting out carrion for over 30 years to help supplement the bald eagles’ winter diets. We lose 50% off our young eagles their first winter. We have been privileged to get up close and personal with the eagles from our eagle blind November thru March for the last nine years.
There are standards for distinguishing one stage of an eagle’s life from another…although there are many variations on those standards. Here are a few of the basics;
The bald eagle is born with gray down giving way to dark feathers. They start to acquire a ‘rosie’ belly around 3 months old. White belly is usually a 2nd year...but I had a 3rd molting into its 4th with a white belly band. At that point you check the coloring of its beak and eye...if they are turning golden it is an older eagle. I had confirmation on the age because it was banded. I had the chance to take lots of photos of it and could read its band. I sent the info to the Bird Band Lab and got confirmation on the age...it was definitely a 3rd changing into a 4th year.
3rd years are generally darker bodied with some white flecking and the striped eye...like a bandit. 4th years usually look like they have a 'muddy' head and tail. 5th years still have a touch of dark on their heads and tail feather. But just remember...they are constantly molting and just like their human counterparts...each is different in its own speical way. That's why I really look at their beaks and eyes to help confirm their age. Hope this helps you! They are amazing creatures to observe and photograph...enjoy!
These top two photos were taken when we went with the research team from Clemson University when they banded the eaglets. Note this little one on the left still has its pecking tooth which helped it break out of its shell.
Amazing how quickly these 'little' guys grow in just a week. They are just starting to go their primary feathers.
They will start flapping around 'practicing' before they will fledge...around 11-12 weeks old.
The bottom two photos are recently fledged young eagles...the one on the left is about three months old from Seney NWR
This eagle on the right is Princess at 3 months old from Seney NWR. We were able to film and photograph here through the fall. We have photographed her every year since. Note her 'rosie' belly.
Top photos...1st year plumage is darker feathers with brown eye and black beak. As they get they are molting...so their feathers are ever changing plumage. The photo on the right was taken later in the winter showing a change is feathers.
Botton photos...Note this one has more white on her under feathers. Later in the season their "rosie/peachy" belly feathers give way to whiter feathers
Photo on top left...Rosie belly giving way to whiter feathers with the 2nd year eagle note its striping around the eye...eye becoming more golden and beak changing colors.
Photo on top right...White belly band and striped eye with stripe going down its back. Note changing of the wing and tail feathers.
Bottom right photo...This 2nd year is now molting into the darker feathers of the 3rd year. Beak and eye still not real golden yet.
Photos on the top...3rd year eagle with Dark feathers with scattering of white, striped eye...menacing 'bandit' look... Beak still quite dark...eye getting lighter
Bottom left photo...At this stage, I actually thought this was a 2nd year with the white belly band...but on further investigation noted the golden eye and lighter beak. I was lucky enough to read its leg band to find out via the Bird Banding Labs that confirmed the age as starting its 4th year.
Photo on the left is Mudhen our territorial male when we first saw him in 2008 in his 4th year...hence his name.
Photo on top left...was taken early spring... a 4 1/2 year starting to lose its mud head and tail.
Photo on the right...5th years still have a touch of dark on their heads and tails and beak.
Photo on the left...is Smudge our territorial female. We met her in 2009 when she and Mudhen first met. Note lose of primary or two...showing they are constantly in molt.
Photo on the right is Mudhen now... a very handsome fully mature bald eagle...still able to distinguish him from other eagle by the way his feathers form on his face and shaping of his beak and eyebrow.
This full mature Bald Eagle visited the area for a couple of days. He daned to let Teresa snatch a few close-up shots of him.
Learn more about the American Bald Eagle from the McGills via their DVD 'A Year in the Life' of an American Bald Eagle found on the 'Nature in Motion Artwork' page.