Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Return of the Bald Eagle

One thing I look forward to every winter, other than snowshoeing and such, is the return of the bald eagle to the Heber Valley. While most migratory birds are headed south out of Utah to escape the cold and follow their food sources to warmer climes, Baldies are coming in from the north to enjoy what for them are milder temperatures and generally open water.
On this snowy day I spotted this large, dark spot in the tree. Depending on the weather and the surrounding terrain, you either look for a large "headless" spot, or a floating "golf ball" in the trees. Generally this is about as close as you get to them.

But on this day, our National Symbol was sitting in a tree rather close to the road. So I was able to snap a few closer-ups.

Well, hello.

Once you get this close, you see that in addition to their dark body and white head and tail, they have a massive yellow bill which is helpful in identifying them and in tearing flesh into more managable sizes. However, while that bill certainly demands respect (I was once bitten by an owl while attempting to pet it. After its handler said I could. My reward for such a move was a quick snap and two holes in my finger oozing blood), it isn't really the business end of this bird.

 That, my friends, would be the powerful tallons holding this big bird to the tree branch. And holy cow bells, these things are powerful. Their tallons are what they use to do their killing and imobolizing. It's hard to describe the power of these things in text. You really have to see them to get the full measure of their umph. But to give you a feeling for how strong a tallon attached to an eagle is - imagine first a grown human squeezing your arm with all they have. It could leave a mark. The pressure exerted is about 60 lbs per square inch. Not too shabby.

Now, picture a red-tail hawk, quite a bit smaller than the eagle, but still pretty impressive. Upon calling it over to sit on your unprotected arm, you feel rather more intense pressure from that squeeze - upwards of 150 lbs per square inch. Ouch. That's definitely going to leave a mark.

Okay, now bring in the big guns. That eagle, sitting contentedly in that tree, could, if you were unfortunate enough to merit such a thing, squeeze your arm with the devistating force of 1200 lbs per square inch. Can you say bone crushing?

Good thing most of us are never in a position to experience that squeeze. We get to simply look and watch in awe and wonder at one of the coolest birds in the sky. And be glad they are no longer endangered.


Felicia said...

It must be neat to see a Bald Eagle in the snow--thanks for sharing this!

"Ranger" Kim said...

Great pictures! I got to see a Golden Eagle up close last year as it was released in the park. Those talons are huge! The beak amazed me too...