Column – Young Eagles

Published 5:38 pm Friday, March 1, 2024

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It’s sign up time for many spring sports in Suffolk… youth soccer and baseball, to name a few.  Kids need to get out there and practice their skills and compete.  It’s the same in the natural world.  We watched two juvenile bald eagles most of a morning recently using their newly acquired skills.  

The first young eagle flew in low over our quiet section of lake Meade with a fish in its talons.  It landed in the top of a tall pine to enjoy breakfast, when suddenly, another but slightly larger juvenile, came along to challenge the first for the fish.  A kerfuffle occurred over the water between the two and the fish was lost to both.  Stealing another animal’s catch is an eagle skill acquired over time.

We’ve seen adult eagles around for a number of years.  Several years ago we saw a mama eagle teaching her fledgeling some fishing skills and tree top landing practice.  It was a messy business… lots of splashing and wet feathers… and a lot of awkward moments for the young eagle.

This time we did see an adult in the area but it is hard to tell if there is a relationship with these young birds.  We suspect so… but there is no way to know for sure.  Adult eagles will continue to feed their young outside the nest for a while after they have fledged, until they learn to forage on their own, usually around 4 -10 weeks after leaving the nest.  It is pretty hard to tell how old these juveniles are because young eagles are basically brown all over for a few years.

Juvenile bald eagles don’t look anything like their adult parents with one exception…they are huge.  They are brown with a brown beak and feet.  Trying to identify ages and stages of the young birds by their coloring is a mixed bag for a few years.  Older juveniles or sub-adults as they are called, have some mottling of white on the underside, but they don’t  start getting the distinctive white head and tail until they are around 4 or 5  years old.

After their dispute over the ownership of the fish our young eagles came to rest in separate trees in our yard.   A bit more time passed and they were a few branches apart in the same tree.  We guess that maybe they are from the same brood, but again it is hard to know for sure because young eagles will hang out together. For the first four years of their lives young eagles are basically nomadic.  They tend to prefer areas with quiet water, like lakes. 

Thankfully, eagles are no longer a rare sight, although we still get a thrill when we see them.  We can remember when the pesticide DDT almost wiped them out along with the brown pelican on the east coast.  We always feel honored to see the wildlife that is present in our lives but especially when they give us a glimpse into their ways as these two young eagles did. 

The rivers and lakes here in Suffolk are just the kind of environment that eagles, young or old, seek.  So, everyone’s efforts to keep our land and waterways clean and “Keep Suffolk Beautiful” is working.


Susan and Bradford “Biff” Andrews are retired teachers and master naturalists who have been outdoor people all their lives, exploring and enjoying the woods, swamps, rivers and beaches throughout the region for many years. Email them at