By Mike Busch

I ran into my favorite Bald Eagles yesterday in a tree at the edge of the Great South Bay.  They have a new favorite tree that gives them a great view of the water and marsh that is only accessible by boat.  As soon as I saw them I turned the boat off and let the wind and current let me drift by their location.  They didn’t seem to care about my presence and only flushed as a low flying plane came over the marsh.

I have photographed them together before but yesterday I was able to take advantage of some great morning light and unobstructed view.

Unlike many birds, there are no really obvious clues to tell the difference between male and female but if they are right next to each other as they were yesterday there are some tells.

First of all the female is about 1/3 larger than the male.  That includes wingspan, with the female up to 8 feet vs. the male at 6 feet.  This is common with all birds of prey, perhaps the male is smaller and more agile for hunting while the female is better suited to protecting the nest and keeping the young warm.  Another interesting fact is Bald Eagles mate for life, many times choosing to remain alone if one of the pair dies.

In the photo below you can clearly see the size difference with the male on the left, female on the right.


There is also a difference in the depth of the hooked beak.  As you can see in the heavily cropped photo below, the female (right) has a much bigger beak from top to bottom.

Below is the sequence when the plane flushed the birds, literally two seconds of action.  After they flushed they started soaring into the thermals to an altitude too high to see with the naked eye.

I used a Nikon D750 with a Sigma 150-600 C.   Camera settings 1/2500 F 6.3 Iso 100.