Despite the hype, here are a few reasons behind myth busting the bald eagle rebirth story that has circulated in the U.S. for the last few decades.
The rebirth of the eagle is a story that has gone far past the campfire and has found legs among believers that this majestic bird goes through an extraordinary physical transformation around the age of 30.
At the crux of the story is the belief that to live longer, an eagle, any eagle, must pluck out its feathers, smash off its beak, and remove its own talons because all of these have become too old and useless. During this time, which sits around five months depending on the version, all will grow back in a rebirth if you will, allowing the bird to continue living until the age of 70.
It’s an inspiring story that has wide appeal to spiritual and scientific minds alike. Can an eagle survive such a process? Has it ever been seen in the wild? It’s said that the eagle has only two options: make this change or die. Well, there’s a little more to it than that.
Philosophical questions aside, let’s look at the facts:
Bald eagles usually live somewhere in the neighborhood of 20-30 years in the wild. The oldest known bird in the U.S. was still living when it was struck and killed by a car in N.Y. It was 38-years-old at the time. A documented 70-year-old bald eagle has not been found yet.
An eagle’s beak is hooked from birth and remains that way unless nature or man interferes with it. Once such case involved a cruel act of poaching wherein the bird’s beak was shot almost off, but the raptor survived thanks in part to a pair of dentists in British Columbia.
The talons are razor sharp, rock hard, and curved. Along with the beak the talons are made of keratin, the same basic material that our fingernails are made of. When you consider how long our nails take to grow it’s easy to see that an eagle couldn’t survive that amount of time being without them. While the keratin grows throughout the bird’s life, talons are not shed and re-grown.
While many bird species go through a molting process including the eagle, bald eagles do not lose all of their feathers at once. The feathers are replaced throughout the life of the bird in a gradual manner continually renewing lost feathers over the course of time.
It’s said that for this rebirth, the eagle must fly to its mountaintop nest, but an aerie is only used for the rearing of chicks during the few months of the year when they are actively raising their young. A look at this can be seen on the Minnesota Bound Live Eagle camera.
Eagles like other wild animals cannot possibly survive without food for the time required by this myth to re-grow its talons, beak, and feathers. The talons and beak alone are vital to the ability of a bald eagle to catch and eat food.
The writer at Snopes may have said it best: “The eagle, like many other living organisms, does not have the luxury of making the decision to extend their life cycle far beyond what is normal for its species”
Still, there are those whose spiritual beliefs would say otherwise. Perhaps because we have not seen it happen, they would say, doesn’t mean that it is not true. A friend of mine shared a link with me that is inspiring and beautiful, but unfortunately, it is not based in fact.
I’m as spiritual as the next ‘believer’ and ready to take something like this at face value, but like most, I need something more to sink my teeth into and the fact is that it’s impossible for this to be biologically true.