Learn About Bald Eagles

The Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) is a bird of prey found in North America that is most recognizable as the national bird and symbol of the United States of America.

This sea eagle has two known sub-species and forms a species pair with the White-tailed Eagle. Its range includes most of Canada and Alaska, all of the contiguous United States and northern Mexico. It is found near large bodies of open water with an abundant food supply and old-growth trees for nesting.

It is partially migratory, depending on location. If its territory has access to open water, it remains year-round, but if the body of water freezes during the winter, making it impossible to obtain food, it migrates to the south or to the coast.

The Bald Eagle is a large bird, with a body length of 71–106 cm, a wingspan of 183–234 cm, and a mass of 3–7 kg (6.6–15.5 lb); females are about 25 percent larger than males. The adult Bald Eagle has a brown body with a white head and tail, and bright yellow irises, taloned feet, and a hooked beak. Juveniles are completely brown except for the yellow feet. Males and females are identical in plumage coloration

It is sexually mature at four years or five years of age, and it is only at that time when they fully display their full white head and tail plumage.

In the wild, Bald Eagles can live up to thirty years, and often survive longer in captivity, up to sixty years. The Bald Eagle builds the largest nest of any North American bird, up to 4 meters (13 ft) deep, 2.5 meters (8 ft) wide, and one tonne in weight.

Bald Eagles normally squeak and have a shrill cry, punctuated by grunts. They do not make the scream that is found in films; this is usually the call of a Red-tailed Hawk, dubbed into films for dramatic effect.

The Bald Eagle’s diet is opportunistic and varied, but most feed mainly on fish. It hunts fish by swooping down and snatching the fish out of the water with its talons. Locally, eagles may rely largely on carrion, especially in winter. Sometimes, if the fish is too heavy to lift, the eagle will be dragged into the water. It may swim to safety, but some eagles drown or succumb to hypothermia. Occasionally, Bald Eagles will steal fish away from smaller raptors, such as Ospreys, a practice known as kleptoparasitism. Healthy adult Bald Eagles are not preyed on in the wild and are thus considered apex predators.

The Bald Eagle is extremely sensitive to human activity, and is found most commonly in areas free of human disturbance. The species was on the brink of extirpation in the continental United States (while flourishing in much of Alaska and Canada) late in the 20th century, but now has a stable population and has been officially removed from the U.S. federal government’s list of endangered species. The Bald Eagle was officially reclassified from “Endangered” to “Threatened” on July 12, 1995 by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. On July 6, 1999, a proposal was initiated “To Remove the Bald Eagle in the Lower 48 States From the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife.” It was delisted on June 28, 2007.

Scientific Classification:

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Aves
  • Order: Falconiformes
  • Family: Accipitridae
  • Genus: Haliaeetus
  • Species: H. leucocephalus

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