Bald Eagle

Genus: Haliaeetus
Species: leucocephalus

Photo of bald eagle sitting and watching prey

Description:  Bald eagles are one of the most recognizable birds in the United States. If you don’t remember what a bald eagles looks like, simply pull out a quarter or a dollar. An eagle is shown on the back of the quarter and holding an olive branch and arrows on the one dollar bill. Bald eagles are large, predatory raptors. They are dark brown on the body and wings. The head and tail are bright white. The feet and bill of bald eagles are yellow. The bill is large and hooked at the tip.

Juvenile bald eagles look very different from the adults. Young bald eagles are almost entirely brown with occasional white markings on the underside of the wings and chest. As the juvenile gets older, the bill will turn from dark brownish-black to yellow and the head and tail turn white.

Size:  Bald eagles grow to about 2½-3 feet in height. They have a wingspan of about 6½ feet. Female bald eagles are larger than the males. 

Diet:  Bald eagles love fish! When fish are not available, bald eagles will eat whatever they can catch including small birds, rodents, and dead meat. Bald eagles have no problem stealing food from other birds!  

Typical Lifespan:  Bald eagles can live to about 20-30 years of age in the wild. They live even longer in captivity.  Bald eagles in the wild face a lot of threats that reduce their lifespan, including chemical pollutants, such as mercury, persistent organic chemicals, heavy metals and DDT. 

Bald Eagle Habitat: 

Bald eagles like lakes—big lakes. During the summer, they can be seen soaring above lakes and in the nearby trees. They prefer lakes and reservoirs with lots of fish and surrounding forests. In the winter, bald eagles can be seen around unfrozen lakes and hunting along coastlines, reservoirs and rivers. During the migration, bald eagles are seen near all types of water habitats.

Range:  Bald eagles are North American birds. Their range extends from the Mexico border through the United States and Canada. Bald eagles are extremely populous in Alaska! If you live in Alaska, along the East and West coasts, the Rocky Mountains and the Mississippi River then you can see bald eagles all year. The rest of the United States only sees bald eagles during the winter and their migration.

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Communication:  Bald eagles call to each other with a high-pitched whistle or chirp.

Bald eagle in snowstorm

Bald Eagle Life History and Reproduction: 

Bald eagles are solitary, but monogamous animals. Although they spend winters and migrations alone, bald eagles maintain the same breeding pair year after year. A mated eagle pair finds a nesting site and produces offspring each year. If one of the pair dies, the surviving bald eagle will look for a new mate in the next breeding season. 

The nests are built on the tops of trees. The pair uses sticks and twigs to construct a platform nest. Some pairs return to the same nest the following year.

Bald eagles normally lay two or three eggs. The eggs are incubated for about 35 days. Depending on the location, the eggs are laid in the winter or spring.

There are not really any predators that threaten the bald eagle chicks or eggs as the parents are almost always on the nest and they are quite powerful and large birds.

For about 2½ months, the parents will care for the chicks by bringing food to the nest. The chicks take their time leaving the nest. After approximately 12 weeks, they work their way out on the branches near the nest. They'll learn to fly but stay in the nearby area. The parents continue to provide some food until the young are independent. 

Young eagles are on their own until they are about five years old. During their juvenile years, they will go through several color changes and molts. At about 5 years of age, they'll look for a mate.

Did You Know?

The bald eagle is the symbol of the United States and a source of pride for much of the nation.  However, one of most famous founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin, hated the idea of the bald eagle as the national symbol. Benjamin Franklin said, "I wish the eagle had not been chosen as the representative of this country. He is a bird of bad moral character; he does not get his living honestly."

What was Benjamin Franklin’s first choice for a national symbol?  The turkey!  The turkey is “a much more respectable bird and a true native of the country.” 

In truth, both species are natives of the United States. The bald eagle was chosen because it stands for strength, courage and freedom. Although the turkey was not chosen for our national symbol, it is the symbol of one of our most famous national holidays, Thanksgiving. 

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