Springtime hijinks: (left to right) juvenile bald eagle; two adult bald eagles, two ravens, juvenile bald eagle, all playing “who’s got the ground squirrel.” photo by Jim Anderson
Springtime hijinks: (left to right) juvenile bald eagle; two adult bald eagles, two ravens, juvenile bald eagle, all playing “who’s got the ground squirrel.” photo by Jim Anderson
In the December 9 edition of The Nugget, photographer Jerry Baldock captured a fantastic photo of an eagle in flight labeled a “magnificent golden eagle.”

Sorry Jerry, you got fooled by the look-alike magnificent juvenile bald eagle. It was approaching the time when the bird’s head and tail will have adult white feathers, the entire body will be covered by all brown feathers, and the beak, legs and feet will be bright yellow. At that point, after about four years into its life, it will be easily recognized as the bald eagle.

If you want to delve deeper into this eagle identification business, take a look at the differences between bald and golden heads. Even as juveniles, baldies have much larger beaks attached to a larger head.

And as long as we’re on the subject of the symbol of our nation, our old pal Benjamin Franklin had something to say about the choice of our national bird. In a letter he wrote to his daughter from France, he had this to say:

“For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead Tree near the River, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the Labour of the Fishing Hawk (aka Osprey); and when that diligent Bird has at length taken a Fish, and is bearing it to his Nest for the Support of his Mate and young Ones, the Bald Eagle pursues him and takes it from him.

“With all this Injustice, he is never in good Case but like those among Men who live by Sharping & Robbing he is generally poor and often very lousy. Besides he is a rank Coward: The little King Bird not bigger than a Sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the District. He is therefore by no means a proper Emblem for the brave and honest Cincinnati of America who have driven all the King birds from our Country...

“I am on this account not displeased that the Figure is not known as a Bald Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America... He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.”

Both bald and golden eagles are commonly seen in the Sisters area; more often baldies than goldens. If you’re not sure about the big dark bird you’re observing, I would pick up a copy of Pete Dunne’s book, “Birds of Prey.” On page 63 is a photo of a flying first-year bald eagle, similar to Jerry’s.