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13 For Sure Facts About Valley Girl

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You can thank the hit 1983 movie Valley Girl for mainstreaming phrases like “for sure” and “gag me.” Valspeak had been around since before the film, which grossed $17.3 million against a $600,000 budget, but the movie helped depict “Valley Girls” in a more positive light. The movie stars Deborah Foreman as a Valley Girl named Julie, who falls in love with a Hollywood punk named Randy (Nicolas Cage), despite the disapproval of their friends.

The film marked Cage’s first major role, and his quirkiness was evident from the get-go (more on that later). Directed by Martha Coolidge (who was paid just $5000 for the gig), Valley Girl endures as both a timeless teen rom-com and a great all-around film. Here are 13 tubular facts about the movie.

1. IT’S BASED ON ROMEO AND JULIET.

It’s not a coincidence that Valley Girl's star-crossed lovers are named Randy and Julie, nor is it accidental that they share a kiss in front of a movie theater marquee for Romeo and Juliet. “Yes, it was intentional, and it was a love story,” Martha Coolidge told Kickin’ It Old School. “So I worked to bring it even more out front. I created a Valley look and a Hollywood look. This heightened the stakes for Randy and Julie, just as the differences between the families did in Romeo and Juliet. The parallels were always meant to be fun and not super serious but were based on truthful observations about the local conflicts and real teen pressures. It’s not about marriage, but about love and growing up and differentiating enough to love.”

In the first version of the script, written by Andrew Lane and Wayne Crawford, a falling-in-love scene and a break-up scene were left out, so Coolidge worked with the writers to add those in.

2. THE MOVIE IS NAMED AFTER A FRANK ZAPPA SONG, BUT HE DIDN’T WANT IT ASSOCIATED WITH THE MOVIE.

A year before Valley Girl was released in theaters, Frank Zappa and his daughter Moon Unit had an unexpected hit song with “Valley Girl,” in which Moon exaggerates Valspeak over her dad’s music. In an interview, Zappa said, “I don’t want people to act like that. I think Valley Girls are disgusting.” In a 1982 interview with Billboard, Zappa again expressed his distaste: “People think that ‘Valley Girl’ is a happy kind of song, but it isn’t. I’ve always hated the San Fernando Valley. It’s a most depressing place.” At the time, he said he was open to collaborating on a script about the song as long as the movie wouldn’t be like Beach Blanket Bingo. But when the movie went into production, Zappa asked a judge to halt production of it because it infringed on the song’s copyright, and filed a suit for $100,000 in punitive damages.

3. COOLIDGE HIRED CAGE WITHOUT REALIZING HE WAS A COPPOLA.

Before Valley Girl came to be, Coolidge had developed a script at Francis Ford Coppola’s American Zoetrope, but the project never came to fruition. When she signed on to direct Valley Girl, she was desperate to find a leading actor who wasn’t a “pretty boy.” “We saw everybody from that generation,” Coolidge said at the SMoviola Presents Valley Girl screening, moderated by Kevin Smith. “All those Brat Packers or whatever, they came and I rejected all of them. I almost cast Judd Nelson and he was tied up, which was probably lucky for me.” During the casting process, she walked over to a pile of headshots and came across one titled “Nicolas Cage,” and after seeing his audition, she decided she wanted him for Randy.

Cage told her he couldn’t do the part, because he was committed to acting in Coppola’s Rumblefish. Coolidge didn’t realize Francis was Cage’s uncle until she called the production company to resolve the conflict, and was told that Nic’s actual surname was Coppola.

4. COOLIDGE WANTED GREATER DIVERSITY.

“I wanted one of the four girls to be black, but [the studio] refused,” Coolidge said at a screening of Valley Girl, discussing the lack of diversity in the cast. “I just did the best I could under the circumstances.”

5. CAGE LIVED IN HIS CAR DURING FILMING.

To get into character, Cage lived in his car while shooting the movie. “I remember chastising him about the danger of living in his car in Hollywood, and how we couldn’t call him,” Coolidge told Kickin’ It Old School. “He said he’d use pay phones—we didn’t have cell phones then! Later, during Birdy, he lived with bandages around his head, which made it difficult for him to eat, so maybe we were lucky.”

6. FOREMAN AND CAGE HAD PALPABLE CHEMISTRY.

“I loved [Cage’s] eyes, and I thought he had great energy,” Foreman told the Tampa Bay Times of her co-star. “I thought he was scary to me. Emotionally, I was feeling stuff inside. He was triggering stuff in me that I had never experienced in my life. I didn’t even have a boyfriend prior to that movie … I had strong feelings for Nic. When the film ended, we had a conversation. I actually went up to San Francisco with him for a weekend. When we came back, an ultimatum was made—let’s just put it that way. And I decided not to go with the ultimatum, and we were never together after that.”

For Foreman, the break-up scene in the movie was difficult. “I think deep down, I didn’t want to be breaking up with him! And I didn’t even want to go there, to predestine myself,” she said. “I was really resisting the whole experience. It was uncomfortable beyond means. That was the longest we spent on any scene. It was a struggle. Even when I watch it now, I go, ‘Wow, that's so uncomfortable.’”

7. ELIZABETH “E.G.” DAILY WASN’T A VALLEY GIRL IN REAL LIFE.

Elizabeth Daily’s character, Loryn, didn’t have a Valley Girl accent, and that was on purpose. “I didn’t really know the Valley Girl thing that much, so I pretended my character was actually from Malibu,” she said. “I was such a rocker from the [Sunset] Strip that I didn’t really know the Valley Girl thing, but I think it was kind of accurate, actually. There are people that actually talk like that from the Valley. It’s pretty funny.”

If Daily’s non-Valley Girl voice sounds familiar, it’s because she has since moved on to a successful voice acting career, doing the voice of The Rugrats’ Tommy Pickles, as well as work on The Powerpuff Girls, Happy Feet, and Wreck-It Ralph; in 2013 she auditioned for The Voice.

8. CAGE WAS SO HAIRY, HE HAD TO SHAVE HIS CHEST.

For an 18-year-old, Cage was quite hirsute, so Coolidge asked him to shave his chest to look younger. “There was an artistic bent to it, for his character,” Foreman told the Yo Show. “He looked more mature with all that hair that he had. They found a middle ground for it.” Cage shaved his hair into a V-like shape, which can be seen during a beach scene.

9. THE L.A. BAND X WAS SUPPOSED TO BE IN THE MOVIE INSTEAD OF THE PLIMSOULS.

During a scene at Club Central, the live band playing in the background is The Plimsouls, who contributed their hit “A Million Miles Away” to the soundtrack. But during the Kevin Smith screening, Coolidge revealed that she originally tapped the band X to be in the scene. “It was going to be X, and we were in talks. It was very serious and then all of a sudden they kind of freaked out and they said, ‘You know what? We don’t want to alienate our Valley fans,’ and they passed.”

10. THE SOUNDTRACK GOT PULLED AT THE LAST MINUTE.

One of the things Valley Girl is known for is its excellent New Wave soundtrack, featuring Modern English’s “I Melt With You,” the Plimsouls, and an array of other ’80s songs. Though it was a shoestring budget film, $250,000 of that budget went toward music clearance rights. A Clash song plays in an earlier print but it got switched to a Men at Work song later, and the studio refused to redo the print to bring the credits up to date “They didn’t care if the credits were correct, they just didn’t want to spend that large amount of money,” Coolidge told Kickin’ It Old School. “So CBS pulled the soundtrack album at the last minute. The film was released with the new songs in it and some of the music credits were completely wrong.” A mini-album was released, but it wasn’t until 1994 that Rhino Records released a full soundtrack.

11. COOLIDGE WAS GIVEN ARTISTIC FREEDOM … AS LONG AS THERE WAS SOME NUDITY.

Atlantic Releasing distributed the movie, and they wanted it to appeal to men, which meant that they wanted it to include some nudity, so Coolidge agreed to include a few boob shots. “They said they didn’t care how it was done, they ‘just wanted to see them.’ We shook hands on it,” Coolidge told Kickin’ It Old School. “They considered the film an ‘exploitation genre film’ meant for guys. The real success happened when we showed them the finished film. They jumped up and gasped, ‘It’s a real movie!’ They no longer obsessed about how many times they saw naked breasts in the film, which was barely three, and one frame of a fourth … When the studio saw it, they knew it was better to have a good, real film than a mediocre exploitation film. It put them on the map.”

12. FOREMAN ISN’T ON THE MOVIE POSTER, POSSIBLY BECAUSE OF MONEY.

The artwork for the poster features Nic Cage standing next to a woman who is not only not Deborah Foreman, but a woman who does not appear in the movie at all. “Deborah had worked in the business and she was pretty strict about being paid,” Coolidge told Kickin’ It Old School. “When the company needed the actors to be ‘generous with them’ about hours or rules, Deborah was not as forgiving as some of the others. When the poster came up for whatever reason—and it may have been simply that she wanted to be paid—the company brought in a model rather than Deborah. I was shocked and thought it was petty and a really bad idea. But there was nothing I could do about it.”

In a 2013 interview with the Yo Show, Foreman simply said, “If I was the producer I would never have let that happen. I don’t know the facts on it.”

13. A MUSICAL REMAKE HAS BEEN IN THE WORKS FOR YEARS.

Since 2009, a musical film version of Valley Girl has been talked about. First, Jason Moore was attached to direct, but in 2012 Clay Weiner came aboard to direct the Paramount/MGM movie. According to Deadline, “In the musical, the actors will sing ’80s New Wave tunes from bands like The Go-Go’s and The Cars.” Not much movement has been made in the past three years, though.

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35 Movies Roger Ebert Really Hated
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When Roger Ebert hated a film, he didn't mince words. On what would have been the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer's 76th birthday, here are some movies he absolutely loathed (including a couple of surprises) and his dry assessments of their value.

1. ARMAGEDDON (1998) // 1 STAR

“The movie is an assault on the eyes, the ears, the brain, common sense and the human desire to be entertained. No matter what they’re charging to get in, it’s worth more to get out. ... Armageddon reportedly used the services of nine writers. Why did it need any? The dialogue is either shouted one-liners or romantic drivel. ‘It’s gonna blow!’ is used so many times, I wonder if every single writer used it once, and then sat back from his word processor with a contented smile on his face, another day’s work done.”

2. THE BROWN BUNNY (2003) // 0 STARS

"I had a colonoscopy once, and they let me watch it on TV. It was more entertaining than The Brown Bunny."

When the movie’s director responded by mocking Ebert’s weight, Ebert said, “It is true that I am fat, but one day I will be thin, and he will still be the director of The Brown Bunny."

3. JASON X (2001) // HALF STAR

"'This sucks on so many levels.' Dialogue from Jason X; rare for a movie to so frankly describe itself. Jason X sucks on the levels of storytelling, character development, suspense, special effects, originality, punctuation, neatness and aptness of thought."

4. MAD DOG TIME (1996) // 0 STARS

"Mad Dog Time is the first movie I have seen that does not improve on the sight of a blank screen viewed for the same length of time. Oh, I've seen bad movies before. But they usually made me care about how bad they were. Watching Mad Dog Time is like waiting for the bus in a city where you're not sure they have a bus line  ... Mad Dog Time should be cut into free ukulele picks for the poor."

5. THE USUAL SUSPECTS (1995) // 1.5 STARS

"Once again, my comprehension began to slip, and finally I wrote down: 'To the degree that I do understand, I don't care.' It was, however, somewhat reassuring at the end of the movie to discover that I had, after all, understood everything I was intended to understand. It was just that there was less to understand than the movie at first suggests."

6. DEUCE BIGALOW: EUROPEAN GIGOLO (2005) // ZERO STARS

"[The title character] makes a living prostituting himself. How much he charges I'm not sure, but the price is worth it if it keeps him off the streets and out of another movie. Deuce Bigalow is aggressively bad, as if it wants to cause suffering to the audience. The best thing about it is that it runs for only 75 minutes ... Speaking in my official capacity as a Pulitzer Prize winner, Mr. Schneider, your movie sucks."

7. MR. MAGOO (1997) // HALF STAR

“Magoo drives a red Studebaker convertible in Mr. Magoo, a fact I report because I love Studebakers and his was the only thing I liked in the film. Mr. Magoo is transcendently bad. It soars above ordinary badness as the eagle outreaches the fly.”

8. SPICE WORLD (1997) // HALF STAR

"Spice World is obviously intended as a ripoff of A Hard Day's Night which gave The Beatles to the movies ... the huge difference, of course, is that the Beatles were talented—while, let's face it, the Spice Girls could be duplicated by any five women under the age of 30 standing in line at Dunkin' Donuts."

9. GOOD LUCK CHUCK (2007) // 1 STAR

"There is a word for this movie, and that word is: Ick."

10. FREDDY GOT FINGERED (2001)// 0 STARS

"This movie doesn't scrape the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn't the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn't below the bottom of the barrel. This movie doesn't deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence with barrels."

11. CORKY ROMANO (2001) // HALF STAR

Corky Romano is like a dead zone of comedy. The concept is exhausted, the ideas are tired, the physical gags are routine, the story is labored, the actors look like they can barely contain their doubts about the project.”

12. CHARLIE'S ANGELS (2000) // HALF STAR

Charlie’s Angels is like the trailer for a video game movie, lacking only the video game, and the movie.”

13. MANNEQUIN (1987) // HALF STAR

“A lot of bad movies are fairly throbbing with life. Mannequin is dead. The wake lasts 1 1/2 hours, and then we can leave the theater. Halfway through, I was ready for someone to lead us in reciting the rosary.”

14. EXIT TO EDEN (1994) // HALF STAR

“I’m sorry, but I just don’t get Rosie O’Donnell. I’ve seen her in three or four movies now, and she generally had the same effect on me as fingernails on a blackboard. She’s harsh and abrupt and staccato and doesn’t seem to be having any fun. She looks mean. ...  What were your first thoughts the first time Rosie turned up in the leather dominatrix uniform? Did you maybe have slight misgivings that you were presiding over one of the more misguided film projects of recent years?”

15. HOCUS POCUS (1993) // 1 STAR

“Of the film’s many problems, the greatest may be that all three witches are thoroughly unpleasant. They don’t have personalities; they have behavior patterns and decibel levels. A good movie inspires the audience to subconsciously ask, ‘Give me more!’ The witches in this one inspired my silent cry, ‘Get me out of here!’”

(What can we say? Ebert was occasionally wrong.)

16. TOMMY BOY (1995) // 1 STAR

“No one is funny in Tommy Boy. There are no memorable lines. None of the characters is interesting, except for the enigmatic figure played by Rob Lowe, who seems to have wandered over from Hamlet. Judging by the evidence on the screen, the movie got a green light before a usable screenplay had been prepared, with everybody reassuring themselves that since they were such funny people, inspiration would overcome them.”

17. THE VILLAGE (2004) // 1 STAR

“Eventually the secret of Those, etc., is revealed. It’s a crummy secret, about one step up the ladder of narrative originality from It Was All a Dream. It’s so witless, in fact, that when we do discover the secret, we want to rewind the film so we don’t know the secret anymore. And then keep on rewinding, and rewinding, until we’re back at the beginning, and can get up from our seats and walk backward out of the theater and go down the up escalator and watch the money spring from the cash register into our pockets.”

18. THE LOVE GURU (2008) // 1 STAR

“Myers has some funny moments, but this film could have been written on toilet walls by callow adolescents. Every reference to a human sex organ or process of defecation is not automatically funny simply because it is naughty, but Myers seems to labor under that delusion. He acts as if he’s getting away with something, but in fact all he’s getting away with is selling tickets to a dreary experience.”

19. SHE'S OUT OF CONTROL (1989) // 0 STARS

“What planet did the makers of this film come from? What assumptions do they have about the purpose and quality of life? I ask because She’s Out of Control is simultaneously so bizarre and so banal that it’s a first: the first movie fabricated entirely from sitcom cliches and plastic lifestyles, without reference to any known plane of reality.”

20. SUMMER SCHOOL (1987) // HALF STAR

“You see it, you leave the theater, and then it evaporates, leaving just a slight residue, something like a vaguely unpleasant taste in the memory.”

21. CLIFFORD (1994) // HALF STAR

“It’s not bad in any usual way. It’s bad in a new way all its own. There is something extraterrestrial about it, as if it’s based on the sense of humor of an alien race with a completely different relationship to the physical universe. The movie is so odd, it’s most worth seeing just because we’ll never see anything like it again. I hope.”

22. NORTH (1994) // 0 STARS

"I hated this movie. Hated hated hated hated hated this movie. Hated it. Hated every simpering stupid vacant audience-insulting moment of it. Hated the sensibility that thought anyone would like it. Hated the implied insult to the audience by its belief that anyone would be entertained by it."

Alan Zweibel wrote this film, and he got a chance to confront Ebert about the review. In a bathroom.

23. 200 CIGARETTES (1999)// HALF STAR

"Maybe another 200 cigarettes would have helped; coughing would be better than some of this dialogue."

24. DEATH TO SMOOCHY (2002) // HALF STAR

"In all the annals of the movies, few films have been this odd, inexplicable and unpleasant."

25. SAVING SILVERMAN (2001) // HALF STAR

"Saving Silverman is so bad in so many different ways that perhaps you should see it, as an example of the lowest slopes of the bell-shaped curve."

He included a critique of Neil Diamond, who makes a guest appearance in the movie: "As for Neil Diamond, Saving Silverman is his first appearance in a fiction film since The Jazz Singer (1980), and one can only marvel that he waited 20 years to appear in a second film, and found one even worse than his first one."

26. THE JAZZ SINGER (1980) // 1 STAR

From rogerebert.com:

"Diamond's whole presence in this movie is offensively narcissistic. His songs are melodramatic, interchangeable, self-aggrandizing groans and anguished shouts, backed protectively by expensive and cloying instrumentation. His dramatic presence also looks over-protected, as if nobody was willing to risk offending him by asking him to seem involved, caring and engaged.

"Diamond plays the whole movie looking at people's third shirt buttons, as if he can't be bothered to meet their eyes and relate with them. It's strange about the Diamond performance: It's not just that he can't act. It's that he sends out creepy vibes. He seems self-absorbed, closed off, grandiose, out of touch with his immediate surroundings."

27. ACE VENTURA: PET DETECTIVE (1994) // 1 STAR

"Most of the people look as if they would rather be in other movies. The movie basically has one joke, which is Ace Ventura's weird nerdy strangeness. If you laugh at this joke, chances are you laugh at Jerry Lewis, too, and I can sympathize with you even if I can't understand you. I found the movie a long, unfunny slog through an impenetrable plot. Kids might like it. Real little kids."

28. STOP! OR MY MOM WILL SHOOT (1992) // HALF STAR

"Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot! is one of those movies so dimwitted, so utterly lacking in even the smallest morsel of redeeming value, that you stare at the screen in stunned disbelief. It is moronic beyond comprehension, an exercise in desperation during which even Sylvester Stallone, a repository of self-confidence, seems to be disheartened."

29. THE DUKES OF HAZZARD (2005) // 1 STAR

"Of course you don't have to be smart to get into The Dukes of Hazzard. But people like Willie Nelson and Burt Reynolds should have been smart enough to stay out of it. Here is a lame-brained, outdated wheeze about a couple of good ol' boys who roar around the back roads of the South in the General Lee, their beloved 1969 Dodge Charger. As it happens, I also drove a 1969 Dodge Charger. You could have told them apart because mine did not have a Confederate flag painted on the roof."

30. GODZILLA (1998) // 1.5 STARS

"Going to see Godzilla at the Palais of the Cannes Film Festival is like attending a satanic ritual in St. Peter's Basilica. It's a rebuke to the faith that the building represents. Cannes touchingly adheres to a belief that film can be intelligent, moving and grand. Godzilla is a big, ugly, ungainly device to give teenagers the impression they are seeing a movie."

31. THE BUCKET LIST (2007) // 1 STAR

"The Bucket List is a movie about two old codgers who are nothing like people, both suffering from cancer that is nothing like cancer, and setting off on adventures that are nothing like possible. I urgently advise hospitals: Do not make the DVD available to your patients; there may be an outbreak of bedpans thrown at TV screens."

32. DIRTY LOVE (2005) // 0 STAR

"I would like to say more, but—no, I wouldn't. I would not like to say more. I would like to say less. On the basis of Dirty Love, I am not certain that anyone involved has ever seen a movie, or knows what one is."

33. BATTLEFIELD EARTH (2000) // HALF STAR

"This movie is awful in so many different ways. Even the opening titles are cheesy. Sci-fi epics usually begin with a stab at impressive titles, but this one just displays green letters on the screen in a type font that came with my Macintosh. Then the movie's subtitle unscrolls from left to right in the kind of 'effect' you see in home movies."

34. THE FLINTSTONES IN VIVA ROCK VEGAS (2000) // HALF STAR

"This is an ideal first movie for infants, who can enjoy the bright colors on the screen and wave their tiny hands to the music."

35. PINK FLAMINGOS (1972) // 0 STARS

"John Waters' Pink Flamingos has been restored for its 25th anniversary revival, and with any luck at all that means I won't have to see it again for another 25 years. If I haven't retired by then, I will. ... Note: I am not giving a star rating to Pink Flamingos because stars simply seem not to apply. It should be considered not as a film but as a fact, or perhaps as an object."

Reviews via RogerEbert.com.

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14 Bold Facts About Bald Eagles
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Bald eagles are powerful symbols of America—but there’s a whole lot more to these quirky birds.

1. YOUNG BALD EAGLES AREN'T BALD.

A young bald eagle with a brown head on a beach.
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So obviously adult bald eagles aren't really bald, either—their heads have bright white plumage that contrasts with their dark body feathers, giving them a "bald" look. But young bald eagles have mostly brown heads. In fact, for the first four or five years of their lives, they move through a complicated series of different plumage patterns; in their second year, for instance, they have white bellies.

2. BALD EAGLES SOUND SO SILLY THAT HOLLYWOOD DUBS OVER THEIR VOICES.

A red-tailed hawk.
A red-tailed hawk's screech is usually dubbed over the bald eagle's weaker scream.
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It's a scene you’ve probably seen countless times in movies and on TV: an eagle flies overhead and emits a rough, piercing scream. It's a classic symbol of wilderness and adventure. The only problem? Bald eagles don't make that sound.

Instead, they emit a sort of high-pitched giggle or a weak scream. These noises are so unimpressive that Hollywood sound editors often dub over bald eagle calls with far more impressive sounds: the piercing, earthy screams of a smaller bird, the red-tailed hawk. If you were a fan of The Colbert Report, you might remember the show's iconic CGI eagle from the opener—it, too, is making that red-tailed hawk cry. Listen for yourself and decide who sounds more impressive.

3. THEY EAT TRASH AND STOLEN FOOD.

Two bald eagles guard their prey against two magpies on a snowy field.
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Picture a majestic bald eagle swooping low over a lake and catching a fish in its powerful claws. Yes, bald eagles eat a lot of fish—but they don't always catch it themselves. They've perfected the art of stealing fish from other birds such as ospreys, chasing them down until they drop their prey.

Bald eagles will also snack on gulls, ducks, rabbits, crabs, amphibians, and more. They'll scavenge in dumpsters, feed on waste from fish processing plants, and even gorge on carrion (dead, decaying animals).

4. BALD EAGLES USUALLY MATE FOR LIFE.

Two bald eagles perched on a tree.
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Trash and carrion aside, they're pretty romantic animals. Bald eagles tend to pair up for life, and they share parenting duties: the male and the female take turns incubating the eggs, and they both feed their young.

5. … AND THEY LIVE PRETTY LONG LIVES.

Two bald eagles sitting on a rock.
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Those romantic partnerships are even more impressive because bald eagles can survive for decades. In 2015, a wild eagle in Henrietta, New York, died at the record age of 38. Considering that these birds pair up at 4 or 5 years of age, that's a lot of Valentine's Days.

6. THEY HOLD THE RECORD FOR THE LARGEST BIRD'S NEST.

Two bald eagles in their large nest.
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Bald eagles build enormous nests high in the treetops. The male and female work on the nest together, and this quality time helps them cement their lifelong bond. Their cozy nurseries consist of a framework of sticks lined with softer stuff such as grass and feathers. If the nest serves them well during the breeding season, they'll keep using it year after year. And, like all homeowners, they can't resist the thought of renovating and adding to their abode. Every year, they'll spruce it up with a whopping foot or two of new material.

On average, bald eagle nests are 2-4 feet deep and 4-5 feet wide. But one pair of eagles near St. Petersburg, Florida, earned the Guinness World Record for largest bird’s nest: 20 feet deep and 9.5 feet wide. The nest weighed over two tons.

7. FEMALES ARE LARGER THAN MALES.

Two bald eagles in their large nest.
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In many animal species, males are (on average) larger than females. Male gorillas, for example, dwarf their female counterparts. But for most birds of prey, it's the opposite. Male bald eagles weight about 25 percent less than females.

Scientists aren't sure why there's such a size difference. One reason might be the way they divide up their nesting duties. Females take the lead in arranging the nesting material, so being bigger might help them take charge. Also, they spend longer incubating the eggs than males, so their size could intimidate would-be egg thieves.

If you're trying to tell male and female eagles apart, this size difference may help you—especially since both sexes have the same plumage patterns.

8. TO IDENTIFY THEM, LOOK AT THE WINGS.

A bald eagle flies across the water.
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People often get excited about a big soaring bird and yell "It's an eagle!” just before it swoops closer and … oops, it's a vulture. Here's a handy identification tip. Bald eagles usually soar with their wings almost flat. On the other hand, the turkey vulture—another dark, soaring bird—holds its wings up in a shallow V shape called a dihedral. A lot of large hawks also soar with slightly raised wings.

9. THEY'RE COMEBACK KIDS.

Baby eagle chicks in a nest.
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Before European settlers arrived, bald eagles were abundant across the U.S. But with settlement came habitat destruction, and the settlers viewed the eagles as competition for game and as a threat to livestock. So many eagles were killed that in 1940 Congress passed an act to protect the birds.

Unfortunately, another threat rose up at about that time. Starting after World War II, farmers and public health officials used an insecticide called DDT. The chemical worked well to eradicate mosquitos and agricultural pests—but as it traveled up the food chain, it began to heavily affect birds of prey. DDT made eagle eggshells too thin and caused the eggs to break. A 1963 survey found just 471 bald eagle pairs in the lower 48 states.

DDT was banned in the early 1970s, and conservationists began to breed bald eagles in captivity and reintroduce them in places across America. Luckily, this species made a spectacular recovery. Now the lower 48 states boast over 9700 nesting pairs.

10. THEY'RE UNIQUELY NORTH AMERICAN.

An African fish eagle flies over the water.
The African fish eagle is a relative of the North American bald eagle.
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You've probably heard of America's other eagle: the golden eagle. This bird lives throughout much of the northern hemisphere. But the bald eagle is only found in North America. It lives across much of Canada and the U.S., as well as northern parts of Mexico.

Though it may be North American, the bald eagle has seven close relatives that are found throughout the world. They all belong to the genus Haliaeetus, which comes—pretty unimaginatively—from the Latin words for "sea" and "eagle." One relative, the African fish eagle, is a powerful symbol in its own right. It represents several countries; for example, it's the national symbol of Zambia, and graces the South Sudanese, Malawian, and Namibian coats of arms.

11. THEY'RE AERIAL DAREDEVILS.

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It seems too weird to be true: While flying, bald eagles sometimes grab each other's feet and spin while plummeting to the Earth. Scientists aren't sure why they do this—perhaps it's a courtship ritual or a territorial battle. Usually, the pair will separate before hitting the ground (as seen in this remarkable set of photographs). But sometimes they hold tight and don't let go. These two male bald eagles locked talons and hit the ground with their feet still connected. One subsequently escaped and the other was treated for talon wounds.

12. THEIR EYES ARE AMAZING.

Close-up of a bald eagle's face.
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What if you could close your eyes and still see? Besides the usual pair of eyelids, bald eagles have a see-through eyelid called a nictitating membrane. They can close this membrane to protect their eyes while their main eyelids remain open. The membrane also helps moisten and clean their eyes.

Eagles also have sharper vision than people, and their field of vision is wider. Plus, they can see ultraviolet light. Both of those things mean the expression "eagle eye" is spot-on.

13. THEY MIGRATE … SORT OF.

A bald eagle sits in a snowy tree.
iStock

If you're a bald eagle that nests in northern Canada, you'll probably head south for the winter to avoid the punishing cold. Many eagles fly south for the winter and return north for the summer—as do plenty of other bird species (and retired Canadians). But not all bald eagles migrate. Some of them, including individuals in New England and Canada's Maritime provinces, stick around all year. Whether or not a bird migrates depends on how old it is and how much food is available.

14. THEY CAN SWIM … SORT OF.

A bald eagle
iStock

There are several videos online—like the one above—that show a bald eagle swimming in the sea, rowing itself to shore with its huge wings. Eagles have hollow bones and fluffy down, so they can float pretty well. But why swim instead of soar? Sometimes, an eagle will swoop down and grab an especially weighty fish, then paddle it to shore to eat.

Note that the announcer in the video above says that the eagle's talons are "locked" on a fish that's too heavy to carry. In fact, those lockable talons are an urban legend.

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