Do you know bald eagles are considered the largest true raptors in North America? They are 2 to 4 feet tall and weigh around 3 to 6.3 kg with such majestic appearance.
The chicks can be purely white or brown in color, but the adult ones have dark to medium brown bodies with clear white heads. Did I say white heads? How come their entire body color doesn’t reflect the color of their head?
That’s interesting, right? Have you ever wondered why do bald eagles have white heads? It can be a gift of nature, but anyway why?
As funny as it may sound, we are going to elaborate on this difference in color today! Why do bald eagles have white heads? Is it really explainable? Stay with us and you will soon learn.
Do You Know?
- Bald eagles are not actually bald. Ages ago, bald had a primitive meaning, “White Headed.”
- Can you believe, they have excellent eyesight and can spot prey from up to two miles away?
- Bald eagles can reach up to 40 miles per hour while flying.
- They also build grand nests. The largest one ever recorded is over 2 tons.
- The birds were selected as the national bird and symbol of the United States in 1782.
- It takes 4 to 5 years to show up their distinctive white head and tail feathers.
- They primarily feed on fish. But they can also have on waterfowl, turtles, rabbits, and snakes.
- Bald eagles can have a wingspan of up to 7 feet, based on size and weight.
Why Do Bald Eagles Have White Heads?
Sometimes, there’s no specific answer for everything. You can’t simply answer why we look the way we look. There’s still no clear definition of why grey or white chicks ultimately end up with white heads, even not by the experts and scientists.
However, here are some theory that describes why adult bald eagles have white heads.
Theory 1: Adulthood
One of the most popular theories is that the white head and tail feathers are a sign of sexual maturity. Bald eagles reach maturity at the age of 5 years.
The young ones have brown plumage. It’s believed that, as they grow older, the white feathers appear.
It is the opinion of the experts that, the white feathers are pointers that, the young eagle is no longer young anymore and it is ready to breed and raise its own kind.
Other eagles will know they are ready for mating and start a family. It also helps to reduce needless conflicts and competition.
Theory 2: Camouflage
Another theory imposes that the white head and tail feathers serve as a form of camouflage, which is also logical.
You see the juveniles can be dark or grey. They don’t need to fly up in the sky. The young ones survive in the nest or deep woods to avoid trouble.
As they grow older, it’s all about survival. Adult bald eagles often perch in trees and wait for the right opportunity to swoop down and catch their prey.
A white head obviously helps them to blend in the white and bluish color of the sky. It becomes hard for fish and other prey to detect the camouflage color.
Theory 3: Thermoregulation
While rare, but not totally unacceptable. One theory suggests that the white head and the tail feathers contribute to thermoregulation.
** Thermoregulation: A process to maintain a proper body temperature that reduces energy consumption. It is a common survival technique in birds, including the Bald Eagles, to adjust to continuous fluctuation in temperature.
So, how do the white colors help them thermoregulate? The color white is an ideal reflector. We wear white clothes on a hot summer day as they reflect sunlight and don’t absorb any heat.
In short, white heads help bald eagles to keep their head cool! In fact, feathers are the perfect insulators. In contrast, during the winter, they fluff and trap air between them to feel warm and stable.
But what about the body? Don’t they need to reflect heat from their bodies? The other portion of the bald body is brown. And as deep the color gets, it absorbs more heat. This theory fails to explain that.
However, I have my personal point of view! The head needs to be cooler than the rest of the body to avoid stroke and other casualties.
As they live in the wild, they hardly have the opportunity for proper care and observation as the ones that are raised in captivity.
We stand here with our explanation as to why do bald eagles have white heads. Now, you might have already raised an interest in how and when the feathers change colors. Well, the next part hits the right.
When Do the Juveniles Change To White Feathers?
Feathers change during different stages of life. Be it the bald eagles or any other birds. Bald eagles don’t develop white heads until they reach a certain point.
In fact, you will start to notice white flecks in dark or brown color on them at the age of 1.5 to 2.5 years. This is still not the time!
When the chicks are 2 to 3 years old, they would still not have full white feathers on their heads.
It takes several years to become a fully adult bald eagle. By the age of 3 to 4, they started to develop the iconic white head and tail feathers.
This is also the time when they start to have 90% yellow bills and dark bodies. They almost look like adults but except for a fully developed white head and tail.
Eagles are magnificent creatures. They have a slow development process which assists the survival skills and more.
Do the Male & Female Have the Same White Head?
Well, yes obviously. The female bald eagles are 25% larger than the males. They weigh 10 to 15 pounds whereas the male bald eagles are around 6 to 9 pounds.
However, in terms of physical appearance, both male and female bald eagles share the same characteristics. They have the same white head and brown head.
This means it is really difficult to figure out which one is female and which one is male if you look at them separately.
Other than the size & weight, there is no visible difference in them.
Conservation & Protection Rules
We are talking about bald eagles! It’s hard to believe that, how the remarkable birds were on the verge of extinction.
It was around the 1960s, that bald eagles were ruled as an endangered species. By 1963, only 487 bald eagle pairs remained.
DDT, an infamous pesticide was the primary culprit behind this. However, loss of habitat and hunting were also responsible too.
Soon after, DDT was banned in 1972. The bald eagles started to recover remarkably slowly but eventually.
On June 28, 2007, they were removed from the U.S. Endangered Species list. The status soon upgraded to threatened from endangered species, thanks to the dedicated conservation effort.
In 2021, a report by the US Fish and Wildlife Service shows that bald eagles have quadrupled in number since 2009.
Here, now you know why do bald eagles have white heads. While there is no significant difference between males and females, they both appear in white heads and brown bodies.
Every creature, including us, are designed to cope with our surrounding and survive to carry on. The bald eagles are no exception.
A part of their body (brown body) helps them to camouflage in the wild whereas the other part (white head) helps them blend in the sky and keep it cool.
They need this variation to live on in the wild. So, what do you think? Let us know in the comment section about your observations on bald eagles.
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