For those of you that escape to Florida for the winter, it may interest you to know that eagles in Florida breed in November and December to escape the hottest portion of year. The adult bald eagle with its white head and tail is easily recognized, while the immature eagle is mostly all dark-brown with some white in the body or wing linings, depending on its age. It is distinguished by its large size and enormous 7- to 8-foot wingspan. Searching the waters and shoreline of the Merrimack can reward you with close-up views of our national birds perched, soaring, and even catching fish along the river. Eagles prefer fish but they will eat ducks or small mammals in winter. Their keen eyesight helps them pursue prey. Eagles have two to three times greater vision than do humans. It is their most developed sense. The eagles’ talons are its real weapons. When diving upon its prey, it spreads its talons out in a cross-like fashion. Its hind toe is its most powerful with the longest, strongest talon. When striking, the force of impact drives the hind talon into the side of its quarry while the others encircle it. Eagles use their sharp beak to tear open their prey and will consume it bones and all. Their strong stomach acids dissolve the bones.
So get out there to one of these sites along the river and scan the trees and the sky for eagles. Binoculars or a spotting scope may help. There may also be other birders at these sites who will be willing to share their optics with you. You may be rewarded with views of these majestic national birds.
Steve Grinley is the owner of Bird Watcher’s Supply and Gift at the Route 1 traffic circle in Newburyport and the Nature Shop at Joppa Flats.