All about Bald Eagles

Scientific name: Haliaeetus leucocephalus. This roughly translates to ‘White-headed sea eagle’.

Description: Juvenile Bald Eagles are brown with some lighter feathers mixed throughout. They begin getting the white feathers on their head and tail around 1 year of age and finish about 5-7 years old. Adults’ feet and beak are bright yellow and the brown feathers on their wings and torso are edged with a lighter brown color. These eagles can have a 5-6 foot wingspan when fully grown. Males can get up to 7-10lbs as an adult while females may reach 10-13lbs.

Behavior: Bald eagles build nests high in trees, but have also been known to use cliffs or even the ground when nest sites were sparse. They build some of the largest bird nests known; 5-6 feet in diameter and 2-4 feet tall. The largest bald eagle nest recorded was 10 feet in diameter and 20 feet tall! Bald eagles build nests using sticks or branches for the main structure, grasses to fill in smaller spots and will use lichens and feathers to line the inside. They lay 1-3 eggs in a single clutch once a year and once they hatch, both the male and female will raise the eaglets as a pair for the next 2-3 months. Though we see media representation of large groups of eagles together, this only occurs when food is overly abundant in an area. Mostly, these eagles remain solitary or with their mate. The media will also incorrectly use the long, piercing call of the Red-tailed Hawk instead of the staccato, chattering call the Bald Eagle actually makes. 

Diet: Bald Eagles are often found near large bodies of water because fish is a large part of their diet. They are also often found hunting a variety of birds, mammals, reptiles and even invertebrates like crabs. When food is sparse, they will eat carrion (already deceased animals) as well. Bald Eagles will soar overhead looking for prey. They have been known to dive into water to catch fish and can use their wings to help ‘row’ back to shore.



Conservation: In the late 1970s, Bald Eagle population numbers had dropped significantly due to the use of pesticides, loss of habitat and poaching. They were put under protection by the Endangered Species Act and action was taken to stop their decline. It became illegal to injure or kill a Bald Eagle. The pesticide DDT, which caused the most harm, was banned from use in the United States. This pesticide was causing eagles to lay eggs that were far more fragile and could be accidentally crushed by the weight of the parent. In addition, facilities such as zoos and wildlife rescues began breeding and releasing Bald Eagles into areas with low populations. All of these efforts combined brought the Bald Eagle back to Least Concern on the IUCN Red List in 2007. Currently, populations remain fairly stable. There are still threats to Bald Eagles. Rodenticides and pesticides are potentially fatal to the eagles if ingested. Lead poisoning is also a prominent cause of harm to Bald Eagles.

What you can do:  Using traps instead of rodenticides will help keep Bald Eagles from eating poisoned rodents. Natural pest control can be used instead of pesticides to help control insect damage without also causing harm to Eagles and other animals. Moving away from using lead products, such as lead bullets, can help to lower the chances an eagle or another species will ingest the lead.

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