The bald eagle dwarfs most other raptors, including the Turkey vulture and Red-tailed hawk. It has a heavy body, large head, and long, hooked bill. In flight, a bald eagle holds its broad wings flat like a board. Adult eagles have white heads and tails with dark brown bodies and wings. Their legs and beaks are bright yellow. Immature birds have mostly dark heads and tails; their brown wings and bodies are mottled with white in varying amounts. Young birds attain adult plumage in about five years. Immature bald eagles spend the first four years of their lives in nomadic exploration of vast territories and can fly hundreds of miles per day. Some young birds from Florida have wandered north as far as Michigan, and birds from California have reached Alaska.
The bald eagle's natural range covers most of North America, including most of Canada, all of the continental United States, and northern Mexico. It is the only sea eagle unique to North America.
Look for bald eagles near lakes, reservoirs, rivers, marshes, and coasts. Bald Eagles typically nest in forested areas adjacent to large bodies of water, staying away from heavily developed areas when possible. Bald eagles are tolerant of human activity when feeding, and may congregate around fish processing plants, dumps, and below dams where fish concentrate. For perching, bald eagles prefer tall, mature coniferous or deciduous trees that afford a wide view of the surroundings. In winter, they can also be seen in dry, open uplands if there is access to open water for fishing.
Clutch Size: 1-3 eggs Number of Broods: 1 brood Incubation Period: 34-36 days
Bald eagles nest in trees, except in regions where only cliff faces or ground sites are available. They tend to use tall, sturdy conifers that protrude above the forest canopy, providing easy flight access and good visibility. In southern parts of their range, these birds may nest in deciduous trees, mangroves, and cactus. It’s unknown whether the male or the female takes the lead in selecting a nest site. Nests are typically built near the trunk, high up in the tree but below the crown. The largest bald eagle nest on record was 2.9 meters in diameter and 6.1 meters tall. Another famous nest—in Vermilion, Ohio—was shaped like a wine glass and weighed almost two metric tons! It was used for 34 years until the tree blew down.
In the wild: Around 28 years
In human care: Around 36 years
Fish of many kinds constitute the centerpiece of the bald eagle diet (common examples include salmon, herring, shad, and catfish), but these birds eat a wide variety of foods depending on what’s available. They eat birds, reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates such as crabs, and mammals including rabbits and muskrats. They take their prey live, fresh, or as carrion. Eagles sometimes gorge, ingesting a large amount of food and digesting it over several days. They can also survive fasting for many days, even weeks. Rather than do their own fishing, bald eagles often go after other creatures’ catches. A bald eagle will harass a hunting osprey until the smaller raptor drops its prey in midair, where the eagle swoops it up. Fishing mammals (even people sometimes) can also lose prey to bald eagle piracy.