Moose makes a big impression at Eagle Day
You don't have to be little to be impressed at the sight of a big bird.
The Mr. and Mrs. F.L. Schlagle Library's seventh Eagle Day had a lot of stuff for kids to do, including crafts and learning activities such as making an eagle sack puppet, puzzles, coloring pages and eagle books.
But it wasn't just children enjoying the event, which included two presentations featuring a female bald eagle whose wingspan measures 7 1/2 feet. Among the approximately 200 people who attended the event a majority of those watching the day's two eagle presentations were grownups.
Wildlife volunteer Bill Whinery's visual aid was a bald eagle named Moose, which Operation Wildlife acquired after the bird was spotted collapsed in Yellowstone National Park in 1994. Moose had eaten a poisoned gopher, and broke her wing and shoulder in eight places, Whinery said. She's recovered, but Whinery said because the bird can't fully extend the left wing she can only fly in circles to the left, which means she can't be released into the wild.
Moose stayed mostly on a perch to which she was tethered behind Whinery as he spoke, but the bird did try to fly off a few times. When she reached the length of the tether Moose landed loudly on the floor, which caught the audience's attention. The eagle does that when she's nervous, Whinery said.
Moose got her name because the director of Operation Wildlife - an organization that rehabilitates injured and orphaned wild animals - said she was "heavy as a moose," Whinery said.
Michael Kennedy, 13, was one of the lucky few to be called upon as a volunteer during the presentation. He demonstrated, with the help of a 15-pound-weight, just how hard it is to hold up the approximate weight of a bird as big as Moose, who weighs 17 pounds. That's a bit more than the 10-14 lb. average for females, which compares to 8-10 lbs. for males, Whinery said.
Michael, who is from Kansas City, Kan., said it the hunting abilities of bald eagles were the most interesting thing he learned.
"The fact that they can land on animals with such a force," Kennedy said. "They kill instantly what they touch."
In fact, a bald eagle can reach speeds up to 100 mph when diving for the kill, Whinery said.
Impressive as that might be, there's another interesting evolutionary adaptation in bald eagles' talons: even if it wants to, the
bird can't let go its prey until it alights on solid ground. So, if the bird grabs a fish that's more than half its body weight - which would be about 8 lbs. for Moose if she were still able to hunt - the bird will get pulled down with the big fish as it struggles or dies in the water.
So, it's no surprise that eagles have powerful eyes, which helps prevent such fatal errors. As Whinery showed with a couple of placards, a fish that appeared to a human being's naked eye from a distance would appear several times larger to a bald eagle.
Some of the most interesting facts in Whinery's presentation were numbers relating to bald eagles. Mature ones have an average of feathers, 7,182, which, amazingly, is dwarfed by the number of feathers on a tundra swan: 26,512, Whinery said. That compares to 984 on a hummingbird. And the talons of a bald eagle can grab their prey with 180 pounds per square inch of pressure.
The animal has made a big comebback since the 1960s, when there were just 460 known nests in North America, Whinery said. Bald eagles had become endangered as a result of eating animals that had ingested the pesticide DDT, which made their egg shells brittle.
There are now 11 bald eagle nests on the Kansas River, Whinery said.
"2007 was a great year for eagles in Kansas," he said, with 27 babies being born, and a record 49 birds total. Just more than 2,000 wintered in Kansas, and about 6,000 are in Missouri now.
The bird is off the endangered species list but still protected under federal law. The mere possession of a bald eagle feather is punishable by a fine of $10,000.
The bald eagle nest typically measures more than 7 feet in diameter and 10 feet in depth, Whinery said. They weigh about a ton, he said, with the biggest known bald eagle's nest in St. Petersbburg, Fla., measuring 10 feet across, 20 feet deep, and weighing two tons.
The nests need to be that big, Whinery explained, because eaglets grow to 85 percent of the size of their parents in 30 days. Surprisingly, the bird's eggs aren't much bigger than a chicken egg, as Whinery demonstrated with a replica of an eagle's egg.
Carl Perico, Kansas City, Kan., brought his daughters to the afternoon bald eagle presentation.
"It gives you more of an appreciation for wildlife," Perico said after the presentation. "I like to see the wildlife in person, and science is always better when it's hands-on."
Perico's daughter Sarah, 4, said her favorite part of the eagle presentation was "the beak."
She wouldn't elaborate, but Whinery had explained in his presentation that eagles trim their beaks and talons by grinding them on tree bark.