Bald Eagles

#

Back to All Animals

Order: Accipitriformes
Family: Accipitridae
Genus: Haliaeetus
Life Span: 20 - 30 years
Population: 316,700
Species Status: Least Concern

Fun Factoid

Did you know? Bald Eagles are most common in Alaska, where almost 30,000 eagles live!

Welcome to the world of The North American Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)! These amazing and fierce birds of prey once teetered on the verge of extinction during the 1970s, but have made an incredible recovery since then and now thrive throughout the North American continent. As the national symbol for the United States of America, they are known for their signature white “bald” head, which is where they get their name from. They are massive birds, called raptors, with a brown body whose wingspan can reach up to 7.5ft long! From talons to the tops of their heads they stand about 30 inches tall, and they can weigh up to 14lbs. Female eagles tend to be about 25% large than male eagles.

Geography

Fun Factoid

Did you know? Besides Alaska, it is also common to find Bald Eagles throughout Florida!

Bald Eagles can be found throughout almost the entire North American continent, from the borders of Mexico, all the way North to Canada and Alaska. Bald Eagles are almost always found within 2.5 miles of any body of water. This includes rivers, lakes, streams, ponds, and especially bays and coast lines. Eagles get much of their food from these water sources, so it is important that they stay close to them. The place with the largest Bald Eagle population is Alaska, which has a larger population than every other state in the United States combined. This is because food and natural habitat is plentiful, and there is a significantly lower amount of people living there than much of the Eagles’ southern range.

What are Bald Eagles?

Bald Eagles are huge carnivorous birds called “birds of prey” and “raptors”. Both of these names indicate that Bald Eagles are apex predators at the top of their food chain, and they are constantly on the hunt for food. Many other birds like hawks, owls, Osprey, and others are also raptors. As apex predators, Bald Eagles are equipped with some deadly tools for catching prey. They have incredible eyesight, able to see almost 5 times farther than a human. Eagles also have huge claw-like talons that allow them to hold on to their prey once they catch it. Bald Eagles are expert hunters, even while flying, and are able to make impressive dives and maneuvers from the air to catch prey on the ground, in trees, and even in the water. They have a large, sharp beak that allows them to rip apart their food since they don’t have teeth and they will swallow every bite without chewing. This means that they have very strong stomach acid to break down their food, so strong, it can even break down bones.

Fun Factoid

Did you know? Due to their proximity to water and the need to catch fish, Eagles are excellent swimmers! They have often accidentally “taken a dip” while trying to hunt.

Behavior

Although Bald Eagles are fierce hunters, independent, and competitive, they tend to be very social creatures when it is not breeding season, and can be seen perching (sitting up high) and socializing and “chatting” with other eagles often. Surprisingly, Eagles don’t tend to sound like their movie depictions, and instead have a much softer, higher pitch call that some say sounds similar to Seagulls. When it is breeding season, Eagles become more aggressive and territorial, making sure that their nests are safe and left alone. During the winter months, Bald Eagles become much less active, and will be perched in the trees for up to 98% of the day to help conserve energy. In areas like Alaska and Florida, Bald Eagles will stay in their territory year-round due to the abundance of food, water, and habitat, but in certain areas, they will migrate during the winter months in search of food. When migrating, bald Eagles can fly up to 225 miles per day!

Fun Factoid

Did you know? Migrating Bald Eagles can soar to heights of up to 10,000 ft!

Diet

Fun Factoid

Did you know? Bald Eagles have super strong talons for catching prey with a grip of 400 psi, which is 10 times stronger than a human’s!

Bald Eagles are carnivorous apex predators and eat a variety of different things. Their most common meal is fish, which can sometimes make up to 90% of their diet, but they also hunt for prey like water birds, snakes, turtles, small rodents, and they will even dead or left-over animal remains commonly called carrion. Eagles are opportunistic feeders, meaning they are not picky about their meals. Adolescent Eagles frequently feed on carrion until their hunting skills are good enough to catch faster prey. Eagles tend to consume about 6% of their body weight in food per day, and over the course of the year It can add up to about 365lbs of food per year!

Reproduction

Mating season for Bald Eagles typically begins in the winter time, and in some places can last until July. Bald Eagles will mate for life, meaning that the same pair will come together each year and always return to the same nest site. Eagle nests are huge and can always be found in high up places where the large Eagles can access them easily. Their nests can sometimes have a width of up to 6ft across and 3ft deep! Once Eagle pairs have mated, they will lay around 1 to 3 eggs, which are speckled brown and are slightly larger and rounder than chicken eggs. The eggs will usually hatch after a 35-day incubation period, when both the male and female Eagles will take turns incubating the eggs, while the other hunts for food or protects the nest. Once the baby Eagles (also called eaglets or chicks) hatch, they will stay in their nests for up to 12 weeks until they are able to fledge. When an eaglet fledges, it means they have developed wing muscles and feathers for flying and will soon leave the nest on its own. Juvenile Bald Eagles are not fully grown until they are 5 years old, which is when their head feathers will turn fully white. Before then, their heads are covered in brown feathers like the rest of their bodies.

Fun Factoid

Did you know? Just in case something happens to one of their nests, Bald Eagle pairs tend to have one or two extra nest sites called “alternate nests”.

Threats

Today, the biggest danger to the North American Bald Eagle include habitat destruction, collisions with buildings or wind turbines, entanglements in abandoned fishing nets, and lead poisoning. As more development spreads across North America, Eagle habitat shrinks. Eagles depend on large, old growth, forests with many high and wild places to be. With more of it being cut down every day to make way for housing developments or to be used for timber, Eagles are rapidly losing important habitat. Since Bald Eagles are also found next to waterways, they tend to become entangled in old fishing lines that have been left as trash. This can seriously injure or even kill Bald Eagles. Lead poisoning is another threat to Bald Eagles. Lead is a toxic metal that is becoming more common in Bald Eagle habitat since it can be found in fishing and hunting gear, which commonly gets left behind. This toxic metal gets accidentally consumed be Eagles and can slowly build up in their system overtime.

Population

Bald Eagle populations are currently thriving compared to where they were only 60 years ago. During the 1960s, Bald Eagles were on the brink of extinction due the use of an insecticide called DDT. This chemical seeped into the environment and was commonly consumed by fish and small rodents, the main prey of Bald Eagles and many other raptor birds. DDT caused their eggshells to become so thin that many would break. Even in states such as Florida, DDT was affecting Alligator populations in the same way, destroying their eggshells. By 1963, only about 417 pairs of nesting Bald Eagle were found throughout North America, and the insecticide DDT was banned in the 1970s. Since then, Bald Eagle populations and all other raptor birds, even Alligators, have made an amazing come back with many populations reaching thriving levels.

How to Help

Bald Eagles need your help!
Although they may have a thriving population, it is always important to help protect Bald Eagles so they can continue thriving. Here are some ways you can contribute to protecting this amazing species.
Always throw away your trash! When litter is left in the environment, no matter where, it commonly causes injury and even death for many species around you, including Bald Eagles. Always make sure to pick up any litter you see in your neighborhood, in your yard, even in your local parks, it makes a huge difference!
If you see what you think is an injured Bald Eagle, which means they are not flying, limping, or even look to have a broken wing, call your local wildlife authorities! Local wildlife experts will be able to come and make sure the bird is okay, or catch it for rescue, rehabilitation, and eventual release once it is fully healed.
As always, keep your distance from these magnificent birds. They are beautiful, but also need their space. It is important to never approach them or their nest sites.

Fun Factoid

Did you know? Besides the Bald Eagle, there is only one other kind of Eagle found throughout North America, that is the Golden Eagle!