America’s most iconic animal, the bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), has been the symbol of the United States since 1782. These powerful and graceful birds inspire both awe and admiration.
They are not actually bald. The name comes from an Old English word “balde” which means white, used to describe the bird's head. The white head appears striking against its dark brown body. Interested to know more about these majestic creatures? Here are a few more facts about them.
What Is A Bald Eagle?
Bald eagles are large birds of prey found in North America. They are predatory raptors that feed on other animals. The term bird of prey is used to refer to species with hooked bills and strong and sharp talons they use for hunting and killing their prey. Aside from eagles, hawks, owls, and vultures are also birds of prey.
How Big Is A Bald Eagle?
These large birds can grow up to 34 to 43 inches and their wingspan can reach a length of around 6 to 8 feet. They can weigh anywhere around 6.5 to 14 pounds. An adult male can grow to about 36 inches with a wingspan of 2 meters. Females are slightly bigger and can grow to 43 inches with a wingspan that measures 8 feet. Yes, that's from floor to ceiling!
What Does A Bald Eagle Look Like?
These eagles are characterized by their snow-white head and tail, stocky body covered with deep dark brown feathers, paired with a distinct hooked yellow beak. They have extremely sharp and powerful black talons and feet with spikes called spicules. The latter helps them grip and hold prey more effectively.
Baby eagles are born with what looks like light gray fuzz all over that then turn into brown feathers as they mature. At around four or five years old, these eagles develop their iconic snow-white heads and tails. Their dark brown color breaks also, turning to yellow as they mature.
What Do Bald Eagles Eat?
Bald eagles are carnivores, which means they only eat meat. They are often referred to as “fish eagles” since their main food is fish. But when fish aren’t available they are known to eat whatever is available and whatever they can catch. They can feed on other small birds, bird eggs, and other small animals like rabbits, crabs, reptiles, and amphibians.
They are known for their excellent eyesight which they use to spot prey while soaring up in the sky. Hence the term “eagle eyes” used to refer to people with keen eyesight or someone who can spot details. Bald eagles can see four to seven times better than an average human which helps them hunt even small animals. They are known to spot fish even from a mile away!
Where Do Bald Eagles Live?
The bald eagle is the only eagle that’s endemic to North America. Although their range can extend up to the border of the US and Mexico in the South and through Canada in the North. Since their diet consists mainly of fish they like to stay near bodies of water. So they can often be found in forested areas near lakes or hunting near rivers coastlines, marshes, and reservoirs where there’s plenty of fish. They live high up on trees and nest away from humans.
Bald eagles build their nests atop large, sturdy trees using twigs, moss, feathers, and branches. They are known to create huge nests. The biggest bald eagle nest was found in Florida and it measured 9 feet 6 inches wide and 20 feet deep.
Bald Eagle Lifespan
Bald eagles can live up to 20 to 30 years. The oldest bald eagle lived up to 38 years. It was killed by a motor vehicle on the road in western New York in 2015.
Are Bald Eagles Endangered?
There was a time when bald eagles almost became extinct. Aside from over-hunting, a pesticide called DDT contaminated many of the fish that bald eagles feed on. This affected many bald eagles’ ability to produce eggs with strong shells. The chemicals from the pesticide caused them to produce eggs with very thin shells that broke during incubation or failed to hatch.
In 1963, there were only 487 nesting pairs of bald eagles left. It teetered so close to extinction which prompted environmental groups to take action. DDT was soon banned and in1978 the species was listed as endangered in many states fueling more efforts to help their populations thrive. After so many years of hard work and successfully helping them increase their population, the bald eagle was removed from the list of endangered and threatened species.
What Is The Bald Eagle's Population?
As a result of extensive and successful conservation efforts by various groups, the bald eagle’s population grew from just over 400 pairs in 1963 to more than 9,700 nesting pairs today.
What Does The Bald Eagle Represent?
The Founding Fathers chose this bird as the emblem of the United States, and for good reason. Its beauty, grace, and sheer power symbolize strength, freedom, and independence.
Bald eagles are considered sacred in many Indigenous American cultures. Some consider them as spiritual messengers from the gods.
Do Bald Eagles Mate For Life?
These birds are widely believed to be monogamous. This means that they find one partner they will mate with for the rest of their lives. Although they are solitary animals which means while they spend winters and migrate alone, they will go back to the same partner to mate year after year. Together, they create their nesting site and produce eaglets.
They will only be forced to find another partner if the previous one dies. When a partner dies, they will find a new one during the next breeding season.
How Much Weight Can A Bald Eagle Carry?
According to the Center for Conservation Biology, most raptors like bald eagles cannot fly very far carrying a load like prey that is more than 30% of its own body weight. For many eagles, that’s around 3-4 pounds. Carrying capacity also depends on flight conditions like wind direction and speed.