Friday, October 25, 2013

Eagles and Vultures

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Non-birder friends and acquaintances are often excited to tell me that they've just seen an eagle. However, when I question them about their sighting, it usually turns out that what they saw was not an eagle but one of three other species of large birds that are resident in our area.

It seems that the bird most often misidentified as an eagle is the Turkey Vulture, a huge bird that is common throughout the USA. Turkey Vultures don't have the most beautiful faces but they fly like angels, using air currents so well that they only rarely have to flap their wings.



Here in the Houston area we are lucky to have two species of resident vultures. The second is the Black Vulture, a bird whose range is largely restricted to the southern and southeastern states. The Black Vulture has a gray face and neck, and has white only at the tips of its wings. It is smaller than the Turkey Vulture and has to flap its wings much more often as it flies.



BTW, the reason why vultures have such ugly heads and necks is a very practical one: It doesn't make sense to have a beautiful plumage on your head and neck if these parts are going to spend a lot of time rooting around inside the dead bodies of other animals. 



Another bird that is frequently mistaken for an eagle is the Crested Caracara, a type of falcon whose US range used to be almost entirely limited to south Texas but which has now extended that range to include much of the eastern half of the state.






Although the Caracara is in the falcon family, it often acts more like a scavenger than a bird of prey. So, as the following pictures show, it may be seen arguing over carcasses with Turkey and Black Vultures.






So don't we have any eagles in our area? Well, yes, we do. Although Golden Eagles are pretty rare in this part of Texas, we certainly get quite a lot of Bald Eagles. 



Many of these magnificent birds just migrate through our area but some spend most of the year and even nest here. One pair regularly nests in Baytown. The picture below is from last year and shows a parent with one of two chicks raised.



This spring I was surprised to find another pair nesting not a mile from our house in Cypress, northwest of Houston. I wasn't able to get good photos of these birds on the nest but I did get some shots of their juvenile shortly before the birds left the nesting site in the early summer.


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2 comments:

Rolf Hohmann said...

Hi Jeff,
I was in Texas last year and I saw a Bald Eagle near Livingston. Where could I see a Golden Eagle in the State?

Rolf Hohmann said...

Hi Jeff,
I was in Texas last year and I saw a Bald Eagle near Livingston. Where could I see a Golden Eagle in the State?