Jackson Hole Wildlife, Part 1: Bald Eagles
Welcome to part 1 in a series about Jackson Hole wildlife, which astute readers will have guessed by reading the title of this blog. Here you’ll see find out all you need to know about the fauna you’re likely to spot in the area while staying at Flat Creek.
Latin name: Haliaeetus leucocephalus (from the Greek words hali, meaning “sea”; aiētos, meaning “eagle”; leuco, meaning “white”; and cephalos meaning “head.”
What do they look like?
You’re probably familiar with a bald eagle, right? It got its name from its distinctive white head. But obviously it’s not truly bald—in this case, “bald” comes from the Old English term “piebald,” which refers to the white feathers. So there’s no need to rush out and buy Rogaine for the eagles in your life.
What do they eat?
This author once saw a bald eagle swoop down and snag a fish from a pristine river. He could swear “America the Beautiful” was playing over the wind somewhere. He has never felt more patriotic. While fish make up the majority of their diet, they also prey on smaller water birds, small mammals, and—occasionally—whatever is just lying around.
Where can I see them in Jackson Hole?
Bald eagles can occasionally be seen on the elk refuge and along the Gros Ventre river, Oxbow Bend, and Summit Road on Signal Mountain. At the latter location, you can actually look down at eagles in flight. You can also see them along the Snake River.
Can I hunt them?
Yes, if you hate America and want to be locked up forever. Actually, it’s a $5,000 fine and a year in prison for your first offense.
Are they endangered?
Not anymore. Bald eagles are currently listed as “Least concern,” which means their population is rising. In 1940, so many bald eagles were being killed that Congress enacted a law protecting them. But after World War II, pesticides poisoned the bald eagle’s prey, which further shrank their numbers. These days, there are over 9700 nesting pairs of bald eagles in North America, up from just 471 in 1963.
How long do they live?
About 20 years in the wild.
What else should I know about them?
The bald eagle is the symbol of the United States of America, which we’re sure you knew. One of them attacked Donald Trump once. Take from that what you will.
Bald eagles mate for life. It’s one of nature’s great love stories.
Young bald eagles don’t have the adults’ distinctive white heads. Instead, their heads are a solid brown. You have to wonder if the eagles ever get self-conscious when their feathers begin turning white.
Ben Franklin may never have been a proponent of the turkey for the national bird. It’s likely that story is a myth. He was, however, not a fan of the bald eagle. In a letter to his daughter, he wrote, “For my own part. I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen the representative of our country. He is a bird of bad moral character. He does not get his living honestly … besides he is a rank coward: The little king bird not bigger than a sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the district.”
Thanks for reading! If you’re interested in wildlife, why not take a trip to Jackson Hole? Visit us at Flat Creek Inn and set out on your own bald eagle safari. And stay tuned for part 2!