Young Eagles Eat Junk Food

Juvenile bald eagle hunting in Florida (photo by Chuck Tague)
Juvenile bald eagle hunting for fish (photo by Chuck Tague)

16 October 2015

For juvenile bald eagles the first year of life is the hardest.  Fresh from the nest where their parents fed them every day, they’re off on their own to hunt for food with almost no practical experience.  Every day is a new challenge.

The first order of business is to learn to fish, but that’s easier said than done. Fortunately they have other options. They can munch down on carrion, grab food from others, or even eat junk food.

Junk food?

In the September 2015 issue of The Journal of Raptor Research the Center for Conservation Biology (CCB) analyzed the daily movements of 64 satellite-tagged bald eagles in the Chesapeake Bay region with an eye on their use of landfills.  With five years of data and 72 landfills the study found some interesting stuff.

For starters, 10% of the landfills were really popular and garnered 75% of the bald eagles’ use.  The landfills closest to eagle roosts were the favorites.  Eagles apparently like the convenience of a nearby dining experience.

A flock "Down in the dumps" at a Florida landfill (photo by Chuck Tague)
“Down in the dumps” at the landfill (photo by Chuck Tague)

Another surprise was that landfill use was more common among the young.  Compared to adults, hatch year bald eagles visited landfills 6 times as often, second year birds 4 times as often, and third/fourth year birds 3 times as often as adults.  Even so there were individuals in every age group who were obviously hooked on garbage.

Bald eagles seem to give up the landfill habit as they get better at fishing. Junk food is for the young.

Read more about the eagle study here at the Center for Conservation Biology.

(photos by Chuck Tague)

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