Friday, June 30, 2017

Episode 375 (7-3-17): Bald Eagle

CLICK HERE to listen to episode audio (3:47).

Transcript of audio, notes on the audio, photos, and additional information follow below.

All Web addresses mentioned were functional as of 6-30-17.


From the Cumberland Gap to the Atlantic Ocean, this is Virginia Water Radio for the week of July 3, 2017.

This week we feature a Fourth of July mystery sound.   Have a listen for about 20 seconds, and see if you can guess what’s making the chirping, squawking, and wailing sounds.  And here’s a hint: If Benjamin Franklin had gotten his way, U.S. money might contain a picture of a Wild Turkey instead of a likeness of this creature.

SOUND - ~19 sec

If you guessed a Bald Eagle, you’re right!  Despite disapproval by Ben Franklin—who wrote that Bald Eagles’ habit of stealing food from other birds set a bad example of dishonesty—the Bald Eagle became the national emblem in 1782 when its image was included in the Great Seal of the United States.  Real Bald Eagles do, in fact, get food by taking fish that other birds have captured, along with scavenging and some hunting for a variety of animals.  Bald Eagles have recovered dramatically from endangered species status in the United States, and they’re found in every state except Hawaii, typically along large water bodies with long shorelines, such as the Chesapeake Bay and Virginia’s major rivers.  In these areas the birds nest in tall trees, using interwoven sticks, grass, and other materials to build large structures that may be re-used for many years.  The eggs incubated in those nests result after courtship flights described as spectacular and acrobatic, and it’s believed that most eagle pairs mate for life.

Inspiring appearance; aerial skill; durable constructions and bonds; resilience—apparently the good Dr. Franklin missed these national-emblem-worthy characteristics of Bald Eagles.

Thanks to Lang Elliott for permission to use this week’s sounds, from the Stokes Field Guide to Bird Songs.  And we close with a few seconds of music for our national bird, “Bald Eagle of Virginia,” by Timothy Seaman of Williamsburg.  Happy July 4th!

MUSIC - ~24 sec


For more Virginia water sounds, music, and information, visit us online at, or call us at (540) 231-5463.  Virginia Water Radio is produced by the Virginia Water Resources Research Center, part of Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment.   Thanks to Ben Cosgrove for his version of “Shenandoah” to open and close the show.  In Blacksburg, I’m Alan Raflo, thanking you for listening, and wishing you health, wisdom, and good water.


The sounds of the Bald Eagle were taken from the Stokes Field Guide to Bird Songs-Eastern Region CD set, by Lang Elliott with Donald and Lillian Stokes (Time Warner Audio Books, copyright 1997), used with permission of Lang Elliott, whose work is available online at the “Music of Nature” Web site,

“Bald Eagle of Virginia,” a brand new work composed on June 29, 2017, is copyright by Timothy Seaman and Pine Wind Music; used with permission.  More information about Timothy Seaman is available online at here to hear the full version of the composition (1 min./52 sec.).

Click here if you’d like to hear the full version (2 min./22 sec.) of the “Shenandoah” arrangement/performance by Ben Cosgrove that opens and closes this episode.  More information about Mr. Cosgrove is available online at

This episode updates and replaces two previous episodes featuring the Bald Eagle, Episode 57 (3-14-11) and Episode 117 (7-2-12).  Bald Eagle sounds are also included in Episode 294 (12-14-15), on the annual Christmas Bird Count organized by the National Audubon Society.

White-headed Eagle (a formerly used name for Bald Eagle) painting originally published between 1827 and 1838 by John James Audubon in Birds of America, Plate XXXI (31), as reprinted in 1985 by Abbeville Press, New York.  The painting includes wwhat Audubon called a Yellow Catfish caught by the bird.  Photo taken June 29, 2017, from the reprint copy (no. 6 of 350 copies printed in 1985) owned by Special Collections of Virginia Tech Libraries.  Virginia Water Radio thanks Special Collections for permission to photograph their copy and for their assistance. Information about Birds of America is available from the National Audubon Society, online at
Bald Eagle in flight.  Photo by Todd Harless, made available for public use by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's National Digital Library, online at, accessed 6-29-17.

Following are excerpts from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, “Fish and Wildlife Information Service/Bald Eagle/Life History,” online at

“In adult plumage, the head, neck, tail, and upper and lower tail coverts are white. …The juvenile and subadult plumages are mainly brown, including the head and tail. …The adult plumage is attained in about 4-5 years.

“This species nests almost exclusively in live trees, although desert populations will sometimes nest on cliffs or on the ground.  The average height of a nest tree in the Chesapeake Bay region was 27 meters.  Nest trees usually have stout limbs and open canopies which provide a clear flight path into at least one side of the nest.  The nest is usually just below the crown of the tree.  The nest is constructed with large sticks with softer materials such as dead weeds, cornstalks, grassses and sod as a lining. …They tend to nest close to shore, but will nest further inland if shorelines are disturbed by humans.

“The bald eagle feeds mainly on fish but also takes birds, mammals, and other invertebrates. …This species uses communal roost sites and congregates at foraging areas in the winter and summer. …This species requires a constant food supply best met through a diverse prey base …This species will concentrate in the area of large fish kills such as the vicinity of large power plants.  This species is opportunistic and will utilize both live prey and carrion. Besides fish, they also take waterfowl, muskrats, cottontail rabbits, and 5 species of turtles.

“Tree species used for nest sites include loblolly (most frequent), and Virginia pines, oaks, tulip poplar, beech, and hickory.

“Storms and other adverse weather conditions are considered by many to be a threat to nesting bald eagle populations.   The accidents that usually cause mortality are collisions with power lines and other obstructions, and less frequently with aircraft.  The presence of DDE in eggs can cause eggshell thinning and is associated with the reduction in mean productivity for this species.  Reproductive success is also influenced by dieldrin and PCB levels.   There is also a potential for lead poisoning where eagles feed on prey that has been killed or crippled by lead pellets.  Habitat modification and the destruction of nests continue to be limiting factors for eagles in the Chesapeake Bay Region.

“Eagles will attack osprey that are carrying fish and drive them away if they are foraging in the eagles area.  They also interrelate with the American crow, common merganser, great black gulls, common ravens and northern harriers. …The eagle must sometimes compete for the same nest with the great horned owl.  They must also compete with the osprey and herons during periods of food shortage.

“This species requires miles of shoreline along unpolluted water with high perching and lookout points, and tall, often dead, trees for nests.”


Used in Audio

John James Audubon, “White-headed Eagle,” from Birds of America (1827-1838), Plate 31, accessed at the Audubon Web site, online at

David A. Buehler, “Bald Eagle,” No. 506 in The Birds of North America, A. Poole and F. Gill, eds., Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and the Academy of Natural Sciences, 2000; available online (subscription required) at “Birds of North America Online,” This article (page 13 of print edition) describes Bald Eagle courtship as follows: “Spectacular courtship rituals, involving vocalizations and acrobatic flight displays. Perhaps most noted courtship act is Cartwheel Display, in which courting pair fly to great altitude, lock talons, and tumble/cartwheel back toward earth; pair break off display at the last moment to avoid collision with the ground.”

Center for Conservation Biology, “Bald Eagle,” online at; and “Facts About Eagles,” online at  The Center for Conservation Biology is a joint research program between the College of William and Mary and Virginia Commonwealth University.

Chesapeake Bay Program, “Bald Eagle,” online at

Stanley Finger, Doctor Franklin’s Medicine, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 2006; description available online at

Library of Congress, “Symbols of the United States,” online (as PDF) at

Oxford Dictionary and Thesaurus/American Edition, Oxford University Press, New York/Oxford, 1996. According to Oxford Dictionary, “bald” comes from Middle English “ballede” originally meaning “having a white patch.” This helps explain the transition of the Bald Eagle’s name from the “White-headed Eagle.”

Hope Rutledge, “American Bald Eagle Information,” online at

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, “Bald and Golden Eagle Information,” online at

Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, “Fish and Wildlife Information Service,” online at

Online Eagle Cameras

American Eagle Foundation, “Washington, D.C., Bald Eagle Nest Cam,” online at

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/National Conservation Training Center, “Eagle Cam,” online at

For More Information about Eagles and Other Birds in Virginia and Elsewhere

Cornell University Lab of Ornithology, “All About Birds,” online at

Cornell University Lab of Ornithology and the Audubon Society, “eBird,” online at   Here you can find locations of species observations made by contributors, and you can sign up to contribute your own observations.

Alice Jane Lippson and Robert L. Lippson, Life in the Chesapeake Bay, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Md. (2006).

ADDED 6-3-20: Whitney Pipkin, Bald eagles' recovery along James River soars to new heights, Bay Journal, 5/12/20.

Virginia Society of Ornithology: online at  The Society is non-profit organization dedicated to the study, conservation, and enjoyment of birds in the Commonwealth.

Xeno-canto Foundation Web site at  The site provides bird songs from around the world.


All Water Radio episodes are listed by category at the Index link above (  See particularly the “Birds” subject category.

Previous episodes for July 4th are the following:
Episode 168, 7/1/13 – Rivers and other water bodies in the Revolutionary War;
Episode 220, 6/30/14 – River origins of Virginia’s Declaration of Independence signers;
Episode 273, 7/6/15 – The Great Road connecting three Virginia colonial and Revolutionary War sites;
Episode 323, 7/4/16 – Imagining a Green Frog debate for July 4th.


The episode may help with Virginia 2013 Music SOLs at various grade levels that call for “examining the relationship of music to the other fine arts and other fields of knowledge.”

The episode may also help with the following 2010 Science SOLs:

Grades K-6 Earth Patterns, Cycles, and Change Theme
3.8 – Basic patterns and cycles in nature.

Grades K-6 Earth Resources Theme
3.10 - impacts on survival of species.
4.9 - Va. natural resources, including watersheds, water resources, and organisms.

Grades K-6 Life Processes Theme
K.7 - basic needs and processes of plants and animals.
1.5 - animals’ basic needs and distinguishing characteristics.
2.4 - life cycles.
3.4 - behavioral and physiological adaptations.

Grades K-6 Living Systems Theme
2.5 - living things as part of a system, including habitats.
3.5 - food webs.
3.6 - ecosystems, communities, populations, shared resources.
4.5 - ecosystem interactions and human influences on ecosystem.

Life Science Course
LS.6 - ecosystem interactions, including the water cycle, other cycles, and energy flow.
LS.8 - community and population interactions, including food webs, niches, symbiotic relationships.
LS.9 - adaptations for particular ecosystems’ biotic and abiotic factors, including characteristics of land, marine, and freshwater environments.
LS.10 - changes over time in ecosystems, communities, and populations, and factors affecting those changes, including climate changes and catastrophic disturbances.
LS.11 - relationships between ecosystem dynamics and human activity.

Earth Science Course
ES.8 - influences by geologic processes and the activities of humans on freshwater resources, including identification of groundwater and major watershed systems in Virginia.

Biology Course
BIO.8 - dynamic equilibria and interactions within populations, communities, and ecosystems; including nutrient cycling, succession, effects of natural events and human activities, and analysis of the flora, fauna, and microorganisms of Virginia ecosystems.

The episode may also help with the following Virginia 2015 Social Studies SOLs, which become effective in the 2017-18 school year:

Virginia Studies Course
VS.1 – impact of geographic features on people, places, and events in Virginia history.

United States History to 1865 Course
USI.5 – factors that shaped colonial America and conditions in the colonies, including how people interacted with the environment to produce goods and service.
USI.6 – causes, people, and results of the American Revolution.

World Geography Course
WG.2 - how selected physical and ecological processes shape the Earth’s surface, including climate, weather, and how humans influence their environment and are influenced by it.
WG.3 - how regional landscapes reflect the physical environment and the cultural characteristics of their inhabitants.

Government Course
GOVT.15 – role of government in Va. and U.S. economies, including examining environmental issues and property rights.

Virginia’s SOLs are available from the Virginia Department of Education, online at