Be Your Own Birder

Discover the Bald Eagle

One of the most majestic raptors, the bald eagle is well known in its role as the national bird of the United States and a sacred species to many native tribes across North America. But there’s a lot more learn about these birds than just their symbolism!

Bald Eagle - Photo by JD Lasica
Bald Eagle – Photo by JD Lasica

Bald Eagle Fun Facts

  • The bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) is also known as the American bald eagle or just American eagle in reference not only to its symbolism, but also because it can only be seen in North America, from Alaska and Canada throughout the continental United States and as far south as northern Mexico.
  • The bald eagle is a member of the Accipitridae bird family, along with other species of eagles, kites, hawks, harriers, and buzzards.
  • Bald eagles are a type of fish eagle or sea eagle and prey primarily on fish. In inland areas where fish are not readily available, these raptors also hunt ducks, grebes, and mammals, and they will also feast on carrion, including dead fish or even whales washed up on shore. Bald eagles may also steal fish from other eagles or ospreys.
  • These birds can reach speeds of 35-40 miles per hour in level flight, and up to 100 miles per hour in a vertical dive, though they seldom execute dive maneuvers. When carrying fish, their flight speeds are significantly slower.
  • It takes 4-5 years for a young bald eagle to achieve the signature fully white head, white tail, and dark brown body coloration. Juvenile bald eagles are much more mottled and can be confusing to identify. Only about half of bald eaglets survive their first year, but once mature, bald eagles can live 25 years or longer.
  • Bald eagles do not swim as ducks, geese, or other waterfowl can, but they are capable of floating and will use their wings to “row” their way to shore. This most often happens if the eagle catches a fish that may be too heavy to fly away with.
  • These raptors have a high-pitched, whinny-like cackling call. In many movies and television shows where an eagle may be shown soaring, the more elegant, dramatic call of a red-tailed hawk is often used instead of the bald eagle’s true voice.
  • The bald eagle holds the Guinness World Record for the largest bird’s nest in the world. The winning nest was recorded in 1963 near St. Petersburg, Florida, and measured 9 feet, 6 inches wide and 20 feet deep. It was estimated to weigh up to 4,400 pounds.
  • Bald eagles are part of National Save the Eagles Day, a holiday dedicated to the protection and conservation of all eagles worldwide. Though the holiday is now an international event for all eagle species, it was bald eagles that first inspired the effort.
Bald Eagle - Photo by Jen Goellnitz
Bald Eagle – Photo by Jen Goellnitz

Adding the Bald Eagle to Your Life List

Thanks to their easy-to-identify plumage, large size, and widespread range, bald eagles are reasonably easy to find. This is particularly true in winter, when they are much more widespread and likely to be seen near any major waterway or reservoir with thriving fish populations. These birds are also much more social in winter, and large flocks can congregate at good feeding sites. Visiting a known bald eagle nest during the nesting season can also yield great sightings, as these birds return to the same nest sites for many years. Look for the large, bulky nests high in trees, and not only may you catch a glimpse of young eaglets or nesting adults, but the parent eagles may also be perched nearby. Do not venture too close, however, as these birds are sensitive nesters and may abandon a nest if they are disturbed.

Learn More About the Bald Eagle

There are many fantastic resources available to help you take flight with bald eagles, including…

Juvenile Bald Eagle - Photo by Jen Goellnitz
Juvenile Bald Eagle – Photo by Jen Goellnitz

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