Bald Eagle

(Haliaeetus leucocephalus)

Habitat and Distribution: Found across Alaska and Canada south along outer coasts of the United States, the gulf coast and great lakes region and large rivers and water bodies across the interior.

Size: 33-43 inches long; 7-15 pounds; wingspan 7-8 feet. Females are larger than males.

Wild Diet: Primarily fish (especially salmon); also waterfowl, herons, small mammals, and carrion

Predators: Bald eagles have no natural predators. Chicks are usually well guarded, but an unguarded chick may be taken by a hawk, raccoon, or great horned owl.

Lifespan: 20-30 years in the wild; up to 40 years in zoos

Reproduction: Bald eagles mate for life. Mated pairs add material to their “aeries,” or nests, every breeding year. Females usually lay 1-3 eggs a few days apart and these are incubated for about 34 days. Both parents hunt and offer food to the eaglets for about 12 weeks until they are able to leave the nest. Fledglings stay near their parents for another few months, learning how to hunt and fly. Usually only the largest of the chicks will survive.

Behavior: Bald eagles are solitary outside of the breeding season. To hunt, a bald eagle perches high in a tree overlooking a water source, using its excellent eyesight to scan the area for movement. When it spots a fish, it flies over the water’s surface and snatches its prey with powerful, textured toes and sharp talons. Bald eagles are also known to steal fish from the talons of another bird and may scavenge on carcasses of deer, elk, or beached marine mammals. Because they require open water to hunt, they may migrate seasonally if they live in a place where water freezes over in the winter.

Conservation

IUCN Status: Least Concern

Bald eagles were brought to near extinction. In the mid-1900s, crops were sprayed with the pesticide DDT, which washed into streams and rivers where it was consumed by fish. Bald eagles ingested those fish and started laying eggs with soft shells that were easily crushed in incubation. The federal government has since outlawed the use of DDT in the United States and has provided protection to bald eagle nesting sites, allowing bald eagle populations to recover. Because this species is widespread and its population is now increasing, it has been reassigned as Least Concern.

Did you know?

  • Bald eagles are good swimmers. If a bald eagle latches on to a fish too heavy to lift out of the water, it may swim a great distance to shore, dragging the fish onto land to eat it.
  • The bald eagle's name comes from an old English word, "balde," meaning white.
  • Eaglets are born light gray then turn brown. When they are 4 to 5 years old, they develop their normal white heads and tails.
  • Little bumps on the bottom of their feet, called "spicules," help them get a good grip on their prey.