Bald EagleHaliaeetus leucocephalus

adult
Tom Vezo/VIREO
adult
Brian K. Wheeler/VIREO
juvenile (1st year)
Fred Truslow/VIREO
immature (2nd year)
Arthur Morris/VIREO
immature (3rd year)
Rob Curtis/VIREO
immature (4th year)
Rick and Nora Bowers/VIREO
juvenile (1st year)
Rick and Nora Bowers/VIREO
immature (2nd year)
Rob Curtis/VIREO
immature, 4th and 2nd year
Rob Curtis/VIREO
juvenile molting to 2nd year
Arthur Morris/VIREO
adult
Rick and Nora Bowers/VIREO
adult - near miss
Rob Curtis/VIREO
adult and nestlings
John Hunter/VIREO

Description

The emblem bird of the United States, majestic in its appearance. It is not always so majestic in habits: it often feeds on carrion, including dead fish washed up on shore, and it steals food from Ospreys and other smaller birds. At other times, however, it is a powerful predator. Seriously declining during much of the 20th century, the Bald Eagle has made a comeback in many areas since the 1970s. Big concentrations can be found wintering along rivers or reservoirs in some areas.

Habitat

Coasts, rivers, large lakes; in migration, also mountains, open country. Typically close to water, also locally in open dry country. Occurs in a variety of waterside settings where prey is abundant, including swamps in Florida, edges of conifer forest in southeastern Alaska, treeless islands in Aleutians, desert rivers in Arizona. Also winters in some very dry western valleys.

Feeding Diet

Mostly fish when available, also birds, mammals. Feeds heavily on fish in many areas, including herring, salmon, carp, catfish, many others. When fish are scarce, may eat birds (ducks, coots, auklets, others) or mammals (jackrabbits, muskrats, others). Sometimes eats turtles, crabs, shellfish, other items. Often feeds on carrion; when fish or carrion readily available, may catch few birds or mammals.

Feeding Behavior

Opportunistic; sometimes a predator, sometimes a scavenger. Does much hunting by watching from a high perch, then swooping down to catch prey in its talons. Also hunts by cruising very low over sea or land, taking prey by surprise. Where fish are abundant (as at spawning runs), may wade in shallow water to pursue them. Sometimes steals fish from Ospreys or other birds. Also lands on ground to feed on carrion.

Nesting

Usually first breeds at age 4-5 years, and may mate for life. Nest site is usually in tree, often on cliff in west, or on ground on northern islands. Tree nests are usually in very tall tree, standing above surrounding forest, up to 180' or more above ground. Nest (built by both sexes) usually a mound of sticks, lined with finer materials; nest may be reused and added to for years, becoming huge. Great Horned Owls sometimes take over nests. Eggs: 2, sometimes 1-3. White. Incubation is by both parents, 34-36 days. Young: At least one parent remains with young almost constantly for first 2 weeks. Both parents bring prey to nest, tearing food into small pieces and feeding it directly to young at first; after 3-6 weeks, young begin pecking at food dropped in nest. In seasons when prey is scarce, only largest young may survive. Age at first flight about 10-12 weeks.

Eggs

2, sometimes 1-3. White. Incubation is by both parents, 34-36 days. Young: At least one parent remains with young almost constantly for first 2 weeks. Both parents bring prey to nest, tearing food into small pieces and feeding it directly to young at first; after 3-6 weeks, young begin pecking at food dropped in nest. In seasons when prey is scarce, only largest young may survive. Age at first flight about 10-12 weeks.

Young

At least one parent remains with young almost constantly for first 2 weeks. Both parents bring prey to nest, tearing food into small pieces and feeding it directly to young at first; after 3-6 weeks, young begin pecking at food dropped in nest. In seasons when prey is scarce, only largest young may survive. Age at first flight about 10-12 weeks.

Conservation

Numbers declined seriously during the first two-thirds of the 20th century. Shooting was one major cause; even after the eagles were given full legal protection, they continued to decline, probably because of the effects of DDT and other persistent pesticides. Following the banning of DDT, numbers have been increasing gradually since the 1970s, with spectacular recoveries in some states.

Range

Many southern and coastal adults are permanent residents (as far north as Aleutian Islands). Birds from far northern interior migrate south in winter. Immatures from Florida may migrate far north (even to Canada) during their first summer.

Listen

calls of captive
alarm calls of perched adult
alarm calls given in flight #2
alarm calls given in flight #1

Similar Species

adult

Turkey Vulture

A familiar sight in the sky over much of North America is the dark, long-winged form of the Turkey Vulture, soaring high over the landscape. Most birds are believed to have a very poor sense of smell, but the Turkey Vulture is an exception, apparently able to find carrion by odor.

adult and chick in nest

Steller's Sea-Eagle

A huge, majestic eagle, native to the wild coastlines of northeastern Asia. Only a few individuals have been known to wander to Alaska; but a couple of those strays have taken up residence in one general area for several years.

adult

California Condor

A holdover from prehistoric times, the great condor is one of our largest and most magnificent birds -- and one of the rarest. Soaring over wilderness crags, feeding on carcasses of large dead animals, reproducing very slowly, it was not well suited to survival in modern-day southern California. Headed toward extinction in the 1980s, the last birds were brought in from the wild in 1987, to be bred in captivity for eventual release into the wild again.

adult

Golden Eagle

This magnificent bird is widespread in the wilder country of North America, Europe, and Asia. About the same size as the Bald Eagle, the Golden is less of a scavenger and more of a predator, regularly taking prey up to the size of foxes and cranes. The Golden Eagle was important to many Native American tribes, who admired the eagle's courage and strength, and who ascribed mystical powers to the bird and even to its feathers.

Vireo

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