Regal Eagle

It was a chilly morning at the MN National Wildlife Refuge yesterday, but what a treat to see three immature Bald Eagles soaring over the bass ponds with the Ring-billed Gulls.

One eagle made a dive into the bass pond just as I got there and then flew off toward the Bloomington skyline, so I thought that would be my only photo for the day.

Bald Eagle soaring near Bloomington MN skyline

But a few minutes later, the bird returned with two friends, and they took turns circling the pond, once directly over my head, which gives a photographer whiplash from jerking around trying to focus.

Coming right toward me, tough to keep in focus.  This eagle had a dark head and dark eyes, so it was most likely a first year bird.

Coming right toward me, tough to keep in focus. Dark head and dark eyes mean this is still a young bird in its first or second year.

This one seems older -- it has more white on its chest and tail.

This bird seems older — it has more white on its chest and tail.  Length from wing tip to wing tip is 6-7 feet! which keeps this 7-12 pound (3-6 kg) bird up in the air.

This eagle profile kind of looks like the image the U.S. postal service uses.

This profile kind of looks like the eagle image the U.S. postal service uses.

You can almost recognize different individuals by the amount and placement of the white feathers, as illustrated in the photos below.

bald eagle

You can see newly molted secondary flight feathers, that stick out just a little longer and are a slightly different color than the others.  The primary flight feathers on the outer edges of the wing are a little beat up in both birds.

You can see newly molted secondary flight feathers, that stick out just a little longer and are a slightly different color than the others. The primary flight feathers on the outer edges of the wing are a little beat up in both birds, showing separations and missing vanes.

In their first two years Bald Eagles are dark feathered and have dark eyes and beak; each succeeding year for the next three, the head feathers and tail feathers gain a little more white, and the eyes and beak become paler and finally yellow.  Click on the photo below to see Ron Dudley’s fantastic photographic essay on “A Guide to Aging Bald Eagles“.

Ron Dudley-Feathered Photography-Guide to Aging Bald Eagles

4 thoughts on “Regal Eagle

  1. Wonderful shots, Sue. I clocked on several of them and can see they have amazing sharpness and detail. I’m glad that you were able to take such wonderful advantage of the opportunity to see these incredible birds in action from a relatively close distance (and got some great shots of the experience).

    • Thanks, Mike. I find this sort of photography (telephoto of flying birds) very challenging, and often frustrating, as the birds so quickly move out of focus. I need a faster trigger finger!

      • It’s really challenging for everyone I think (except perhaps Phil Lanoue, who has amazing skills). Some of the guys that I see taking photos of birds use a gimbal head on a tripod to help track the birds more smoothly. I am not sure if that helps, but I think it is a necessity when you use a lens bigger than 400mm.

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