Celestron Big Year - 11 April 2016: A Not Yet Bald Eagle


Ironic as it may seem, one of the most frequently misidentified birds in the U.S. is the national bird, the Bald Eagle. Not that most people can’t identify an adult of the species, mind you - the snow white head, sleek dark brown body, and white tail feathers are all but unmistakeable to even the non-birders. However the juveniles are quite another matter.

Brown all over and splotched throughout with white, juvenile Bald Eagles look less like their own parent and far more like the less commonly seen Golden Eagle. To make matters worse, the “shaggy” appearance of juvenile Bald Eagles makes them look larger than adults; giving them even a stronger resemblance to the larger Golden Eagle species.

Upon seeing just such a juvenile Bald Eagle this past week-end as it flew down the Oregon side of the Columbia River as it runs through Astoria, I made this very same mistake - if indeed only for a brief moment until two adult Bald Eagles were also quickly spotted nearby.

Incidentally for those of you heading to a trivia night in the near future, the "bald" in Bald Eagle likely did not originate from the bird's white head being thought to lack feathers, rather it is generally thought to be a shortening of the word "piebald" denoting something that is of two strongly contrasting colors - most commonly white and dark brown or black.

Cheers and good birding to you,