Spreading Americanism (or the Vagrancy of Bald Eagles)

I hate summer, its too hot and too buggy to go birding.  This summer is even worse, too wet as well.  As such my birding time has been cut way back and I’ve been left to ponder things, like how many countries in the world have recorded Bald Eagle.

To try and find that answer I turned to Google, which didn’t help much.  So I started looking up official checklists of countries to see if Bald Eagle is listed on them, and boom!  I started to get somewhere.

Obviously, Bald Eagle is rather common in the United States.  Although the Bald Eagle was nearly wiped out 30 years ago across much of the lower 48 states, they had a healthy population in Southeastern Alaska.  Through Government and private assistance the Bald Eaglewas re-introduced in many areas and their population has boomed, although the species remains fragile.    In my neck of the woods, Bald Eagles are still thrilling to see, but are almost pests now as they love to stir up flocks of shorebirds, ducks and gulls, as I’m trying to look through them!

Because in many areas solid bird records only date back about 50 years, which happens to coincides with the steep decline of the species due to DDT, the results are not surprising of how few records there are of this species outside the United States, Canada and Mexico.

While I admit my search has not been exhaustive, I didn’t readily find any records of Bald Eagle on Cuba, even though Bald Eagles nest in South Florida.  Indeed I didn’t find any Caribbean records.  Nor did I find any records in Central American south of Mexico or in Northern South America.

The Island of Bermuda lists the Bald Eagle as Accidental as it does with most hawks (Except Northern Harrier and Sharp-shinned Hawk, both regular migrants).  Continuing North and East, I interestingly found nothing in Greenland or Iceland or the Azore Islands. 

Ireland has one record, a juvenile that was shot in 1973 and incorrect ID as a White-tailed Eagle, but was later confirmed to be a Bald Eagle.  The United Kingdom (Britain) also has a record, although I couldn’t find any information on it. 

In Western Europe some authors have raised the questions of young Bald Eaglesbeing mis-identified as White-tailed Eagle, which look similar to near adult Bald Eagles (they are related).  White-tailed Eagle even nests on Southwestern Greenland and despite being much closer to North America than the Bald Eagle is to Europe, the White-tailed Eagle has not been identified in the Northeastern United States or Canada.

On the other side of the globe, Bald Eaglehas occurred on the East coast of Russia, not surprising given its close proximity to the still highest concentration of Bald Eagles in Alaska.  However I didn’t find any records in Korea or Japan.  This is likely due to prevailing wind patterns, which normally blow west to east in the Northern Hemisphere, would prevent the Eagles from wandering too far east and would help to explain how Eagles have made it to Western Europe.

As the population of Bald Eagle continue to increase, I would expect the vagrancy of this species outside its normal range to increase as well, especially in the Greenland, Iceland and Western Europe.  As this continues, it will be interesting to see what, if any, interaction Bald Eagles have with White-tailed Eagles in Greenland.

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5 responses to “Spreading Americanism (or the Vagrancy of Bald Eagles)

  1. The general problem with the northern Haliaeetus eagles is very much the same as with the Morus gannets: they are basically all (except for the adults) identified by range alone and not plumage. This way, vagrants will NEVER be recorded no matter how regularly they turn up.
    Be honest: could you tell me now without looking it up how to distinguish an immature White-tailed from a Bald?
    And if not: how many White-taileds might you have missed at the Atlantic coast in winter?
    By the way: I couldn’t readily separate them, and I have seen plenty of both species.

  2. And – yes it is me again, you see it is me, myself and I and as we all want to leave comments, these often come in groups of three – in case you feel the urge to dig in deeper into the occurence of Bald Eagles outside North America.
    There is an old (I believe) 19th century report from Germany but the German records committee has recently re-evaluated the observation and subsequently rejected it, so there are now NO Bald Eagle records from Germany.
    Mind you, looking at their current rejection rate, it makes you wonder if any birds occur in this country at all anymore…

  3. @Jochen #1: I think the possability of White-tailed Eagle occuring on the East Coast of the U.S. and especially in Atlantic Canada is good, getting it past the bird record committee’s with out DNA samples is going to be tough however.

    @Jochen #2: Hopefully they are one specises I hope to see extripated one day.

    @Jochen #3: What was the reasoning for rejecting the 19th century sighting. Locally to me in Cohoes, NY is a 19th century record of Corn Crake. Its one of those records that stands simply because there is really no way to prove it wasn’t a Corn Crake.

  4. #1: Well, I am sure there are ways without DNA but excellent and very detailed pictures will be a must. They do differ in proportions, so I guess if you actually chanced upon say a White-tailed in NE North America, you’d feel something wasn’t quite right about that “Bald Eagle” and start to take pictures/notes.

    #2: I guess many of the Black Hawks would themselves love to be relocated to within their natural range. Let’s hope for the best.

    #3: Aaaah, but you see, you’re not innocent until proven guilty, you’re guilty until proven innocent. They looked at the original publication and evaluated the field characters that were presented. This apparently lead them to the conclusion that the ID as Bald Eagle was not justified on the basis of the information provided and – bam – thumbs down.

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