Bald Eagle Facts: Animals of North America

Once on the brink of extinction, this iconic bird now enjoys a thriving population and extended habitat range.

5. General Characteristics

Haliaeetus leucocephalus, or the Bald Eagle, is the national animal of the United States. The name “Bald Eagle” does not mean that the eagle is actually bald. The name means "white-headed". Mature Bald Eagles are mostly brown in color over much of their bodies, with white heads and tails. The females and males of species have the same colorings, with the only major difference being that the females are at least 25% larger in body size and weight than are the males. Their tails are a little long relative to body size among many other kinds of birds, and slightly wedge-shaped. Their beaks are yellow in color, and are large and hooked. Their feet and irises alike are also yellow in color, and Bald eagles have short and powerful toes with large talons. Their hind talons are highly developed, and used in piercing their prey as they snatch them from above. Their legs, meanwhile, are featherless. Young, immature bald eagles are mostly dark brown in color, mottled with a messy white blotchiness. Their beaks are black, and tipped with yellow on their ends. The Bald Eagle reaches its sexual maturity when it is 3 or 4 years old. These birds vary in size at maturity according to the location they are found. The further away from the equator and the tropics they are, the larger they become. Bald eagles weigh between 3 and 6.5 kg, the length of their bodies is about 70-120 cm, and their wingspan is generally between 1.8 and 2.3 m. Females, being larger than males, generally weigh at least 5.6 kg, as compared to 4.1 kg among their counterpart males. A Bald Eagle’s lifespan in the wild is generally around 20 years from birth.

4. Dietary Needs

Bald eagles are iconic birds of prey. Most of their diet is comprised by fish, but they may also often eat the carcasses of small mammals like rabbits, hares, squirrels, raccoon, and other such terrestrial prey. They tend to live near wetlands, large coasts, inland waters, or marshes, from which they source their fish-based diets. Bald eagles commonly make their nests atop mature stands of hardwood or coniferous trees. They pursue large and very tall trees to live in surrounding the waters that have their food sources. Such trees ideally should be at least 20 meters high.

3. Homes of the Bald Eagle

Bald Eagles are native to Canada, Mexico, Saint Pierre and Miquelon, and the United States. The birds are sensitive to human activity, and therefore will make their nests as far away from human disturbance as possible. You can frequently find them in Florida’s mangrove swamps, the Chesapeake Bay, Wyoming, and Southern Alaska. Once greatly threatened, conservation efforts have led to an almost eightfold increase in Bald Eagle populations over the last four decades, and a 72.2% increase over the last ten years. Today, the majestic bird is listed as a species of “least concern” on the Red List of Threatened Species published by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Once only found in North America, today the bird has spread to Belize, Bermuda, Ireland, Puerto Rico, the Russian Federation, and the U.S. Virgin Islands alike.

2. Sky High Life

Bald Eagles are known to be among the most powerful fliers, and they can fly at speeds of 56-70 km/h when gliding or flapping unencumbered, and even up to 48km/h still when carrying fish or food. Even more impressively, they can also speed dive at 120-160km/h. The birds are territorial, and only migrate during winter when the waters that hold their food freezes. They are known to stay in their same habitats for their whole lives, moving between their northern and southern homes when the water bodies freeze, and make their returns during summer. Bald Eagles are communal birds, and live in packs.

1. Eagle Courtship

After a pair of bald eagles breed, females will lay their eggs, and these eggs will hatch after two months of incubation. A given bald eagle is believed to mate for life with only one partner, and will only mate with another if their original partner has died. If mates have been trying to have offspring and have not managed to do so for several years, they may also go their separate ways and try with different new mates. It is believed that at the age of three or four years into their sexual maturity, they are then ready to mate. The birds return to their habitats where they were born in order to mate, and do so following the aforementioned migration patterns. Bald Eagle courtship is facilitated through impressive displays of skilled in-flight “dancing”. Herein, partners chase, swoop, and cartwheel through the sky. They will climb to high ascents, lock talons, and freefall, unlocking their talons and separating just before they hit the ground. They also court through spectacular calls as well, wooing one another through “song”.

More in Environment