Bald Eagle – the famed bird of prey – is quite interesting. There is a lot that we can learn about this incredible bird that at times you will feel – “woah, really?”
In this article on Bald Eagle facts, we are going to learn about its description, habitat, diet and much more. So, let us begin learning about the National Bird of USA.
Did we mention that Bald Eagle is also the National Animal of USA? Let’s begin, shall we?
Bald Eagle Classification
Species: Haliaeetus leucocephalus
Bald Eagle General Facts: 1-6
1. Bald Eagle is a sea eagle. Its scientific name is Haliaeetus lucocephalus which means a sea (halo) eagle (aeetos) with a white (leukos) head (cephalus).
2. Are you wondering why it is named bald? The world ‘Bald’ doesn’t mean hairless. The word Bald is derived from piebald.
3. Piebald refers to the white head and feathers of the tail which are in contrast with the rest of the body.
4. It is a bird of prey. It hunts down other animals and birds and feeds on them. It is found only in North America.
5. It is seen in Canada, Alaska, contiguous United States of America (a term used to refer to only 48 adjoining states of US present on North American continent – it excludes Alaska and Hawaii), and northern parts of Mexico.
6. Did you know the only state of United States of America where Bald Eagles are not found in Hawaii?
Bald Eagle Taxonomy: 7-12
7. Linnaeus described Bald Eagle in his book, Systema Naturae. He used the name Falco leucocephalus.
8. It has two subspecies. One of them is Haliaeetus leucocephalus leucocephalus. It is found in the southern parts of the United States of America.
9. The other subspecies is Haliaeetus leucocephalus washingtoniensis. It is found in the northern parts of the United States, Alaska, and Canada. It is bigger than its southern counterpart.
10. It forms the ‘species pair’ with Eurasia’s White-Tailed Eagle.
A species pair is nothing but two species sharing similar physical or morphological features but have different reproductive modes.
11. Both the species, Bald Eagle and White-Tailed Eagle, have a white head, white tail feathers, and a darker body.
12. They also share the same ecological niche in their separate ranges.
Bald Eagle Facts: 13-22 | Description of the Bird
13. The Bald Eagle, which is the national bird of USA, has dark brown plumage, and its tail is a little wedge-shaped. Its beak, irises, and feet are bright yellow. The beak is hooked.
14. Legs don’t have feathers, but they have short, powerful toes and large heels (talons).
15. The heels of the hind toes pierce right into the vitals of the prey. The front toes help in holding the prey in place.
16. Body length of Bald Eagle is nearly 70 to 102 centimeters. Average wingspan is around 1.8 to 2.3 meters. Body weight is somewhere between 3.6 and 6.3 kilograms.
17. Though females and males look same, sexual dimorphism (physical differences between male and female) is seen. Females are 1/4th times larger than males.
18. Females usually weigh around an average of 5.6 kilograms while the average weight of males is just 4.1 kilograms.
19. Size of Bald Eagle in different locations follow Bergmann’s rule (an ecogeographical rule which states that population of a species have larger bodies in a colder region than the bodies of the population of the same species in the warmer region).
20. Bald Eagles of South Carolina and Florida are lighter and have smaller wingspan than their counterparts in northern regions.
21. Alaska has the largest Bald Eagles. Bald Eagles of Alaska usually have beaks which are double the length of the Bald Eagles presents near the tropics.
22. Calls of Bald Eagles usually include chirping whistles, staccato, etc.
Bald Eagle Facts: 23-32 | Habitat of the National Bird of USA
23. Its habitat covers almost entire North America which includes Canada, the United States of America and the northern part of Mexico.
24. Were you aware that the Bald Eagle or the national animal of USA is the only sea eagle which is endemic to the continent of North America?
25. It occupies various habitats like bayou (Waterbody present in a flat and low-lying area. It can be either a wetland, marshy lake or a river), desert, deciduous forests, etc.
26. Birds of northern part are migratory while the southern ones are resident at the breeding territory the whole year.
27. It stays in one location if there is a source of open water available. However, if the water body freezes leading to an extreme shortage of food, it migrates to coastal areas.
28. During summers, Bald Eagles (mainly the juveniles) of the southern region of US migrate to northern parts post-breeding.
29. They generally migrate during the daytime between 8:00 AM and 6:00 PM.
30. In the 1950s the population of Bald Eagles decreased significantly. Fortunately, the numbers started rising from 1966 to 2015.
31. As of 2018, Bald Eagle or the national bird of USA is present in all the contiguous states of US.
32. Bald Eagles were found outside their range only twice. Such vagrancy (a biological phenomenon where an animal moves way beyond its range) occurred in Ireland in 1973 and Kerry in 1987.
Bald Eagle Facts: 33-40 | Flight and Eyesight of National Animal of USA
33. Bald Eagle is an amazing flier. It uses thermal convection currents to soar high.
34. It can reach a speed of 56 to 60 kilometers per hour while flapping and gliding.
35. The National Animal of the USA, the Bald Eagle, can attain a speed of about 48 kilometers per hour while catching fish.
36. It has a jaw-dropping diving speed of 126 to 160 kilometers per hour.
37. Though it is morphologically less adapted to flying than Golden Eagle, it is considered superior because of its versatility.
38. It can easily double back, turn, dive, thrust its talons or heels into the prey, etc. which makes it superior to the Golden Eagle.
39. Did you know that an eagle’s eyesight is 8 to 10 times better than human’s eyesight? It can easily spot a rabbit from 3.2 kilometers away.
40. Another interesting fact is that though Bald Eagle is way smaller than humans, the eyeball size of humans and Bald Eagles is approximately the same!
Bald Eagle Diet: 41-63 | What Does the National Bird of USA Eat?
41. Bald Eagle is an opportunistic hunter. It means that if there is a carcass, it happily feeds on it.
42. Its favorite food is usually different species of fish (around 56%). Birds at 28% and mammals at 14% comes in second and third place respectively.
43. In different regions, Bald Eagles eat different species of fish. Here is a quick overview:
In Southeast Alaska, the major fish that Bald Eagle eats include Pink, Coho, and Sockeye Salmons.
Oregon (Columbia River Estuary)
In Oregon, the major fish that the Bald Eagle eats include Largescale Suckers, American Shad, and Common Carp.
In the Pacific Northwest, the Bald Eagle feeds on the following major fish species – Spawning Trout and Salmon.
In Southern Alaska, Pacific Herring, Pacific Sand Lance, and Eulachon are the major fish species that the Bald Eagles feed on.
Maryland (Chesapeake Bay)
In Maryland, the Bald Eagles prefer White Bass, Threadfin Shad, and American Gizzard Shad.
In Florida, they feed mainly on Needlefish, Trout, Mullet, Brown Bullhead, and Catfish.
Sonora (Mexico), Arizona
Rainbow Trout and Catfish make up the major portion of the diet of Bald Eagle in Sonora.
Suckers are what this National Bird of USA feeds on in Lake Superior.
Nebraska (River Platte)
Common Carp and American Gizzard Shad are the two main species of fish that the National Animal of USA feeds on.
44. Experiments near California (Lake Britton) show that it mostly prefers big and larger fishes of 34 to 38 centimeters in size (71.8% percent of the times) over smaller fishes of size 23 to 27.5 centimeters in size (25% of the times).
45. Of all the fish it eats, most of it comes from catching the fish alive, and the rest is by feeding on dead fishes.
46. The carcasses of benthic fishes (fishes of Benthic zone which is the deepest layer or zone in any deep-water body) like catfishes when float upon the water surface become the food of Bald Eagle.
47. It also feeds on the scraps of dead fish left by other predators like brown bears, red foxes, gray wolves, etc.
48. When it comes to waterbirds, 7% to 80% of the diet of Bald Eagles may be made of those waterbirds. Bald Eagles go for waterbirds depending on the availability of fish near the surface of the water.
49. Depending on the location and availability of fishes, the percentage changes. In Greater Yellowstone Area, the birds and fish each make up 43% of the Bald Eagle’s diet.
50. Some of its preferred avian birds are grebes, ducks, alcids, gulls, egrets, coots, herons, and geese.
51. In the case of birds, Bald Eagle prefers mid-sized birds over other sizes.
52. Other occasional preys are emperor geese, great black-backed gulls, sandhill cranes, snow geese, fledging American white pelicans, Canada geese, great blue herons, etc.
53. Nests of storm petrels, cormorants, northern gannets, etc. are predated mostly by Bald Eagle. It even can drastically reduce the population of these birds.
54. Along the North Pacific coastline, the National Animal of USA usually used to hunt otters and kelp-dwelling fish, but due to extreme hunting, Bald Eagle now hunts waterbirds more.
55. Bald Eagle digs out burrows of burrow-nesting seabirds and eats whatever it finds from the burrows. Being a raptor itself, it kills other raptors like red-tailed hawks, turkey vultures, black vultures, and ospreys.
56. Kleptoparasitism (a form of feeding where one animal steals food made, produced or hunted by another animal) is also seen among Bald Eagles.
57. Rabbits, beavers, ground squirrels, muskrats, hares, raccoons, fawn, etc. make up the mammalian prey.
58. It usually hunts sick, newborn, dead or injured animals. It also hunts jackrabbits, prairie dogs, etc.
59. In Washington (Protection Island), it hunts afterbirths, sick, and dead harbor seals.
60. There are cases of Bald Eagle predating sheep as well. But there are very few of them.
61. In warmer states like Florida, it feeds on reptiles on a regular basis, especially turtles.
62. In New Jersey, the common reptiles predated are – common musk turtles, baby common snapping turtles, and diamondback terrapin.
63. Even in the case of reptiles, it aims infant, juvenile or young adults only. Other animals which are predated include crustaceans and amphibians.
Bald Eagle Hunting Method: 64-75 | How Does the National Animal of USA Hunt?
64. It swoops down over the water to catch the fish. It catches a fish with its talons or heels. It catches the fish with one of its claws and tears the flesh with the help of another claw.
65. Structures called spicules are present on the toes of a Bald Eagle (also present on toes of ospreys) which help in holding the fish in place.
66. Gripping power (pound per sq. inch) of Bald Eagle is ten times more than humans.
67. It can catch a fish of nearly its weight, but if the fish is heavy, the eagle is dragged into the water.
68. When a Bald Eagle is dragged into the water, one of the two events can happen – the first being, eagle sailing to the shore and devouring the fish or the second one, eagle getting drowned and dying of hypothermia (decrease in temperature which cannot be taken by the body).
69. It is often believed that any eagle including Bald Eagle usually cannot take a prey which has the same weight as the eagle and fly. It can happen only if the wind supports it.
70. Ambush hunting is also seen in Bald Eagles, though it is rare.
71. When the food is abundant, it can easily store nearly 1 kilogram of meat in a pouch called crop in its throat.
72. When the food is unavailable for some reason, it can use this stored food.
73. Bald Eagle plays safe while hunting. It usually hunts fish and birds under 3 kilograms. It mostly depends on kleptoparasitism and feeding on dead animals.
74. It prefers carcasses of large animals like whales etc. However, it is interesting to note that it doesn’t prefer the carrion (decaying matter) where there is any human disturbance present.
75. It eats by stealing from camps or picnics and even picks edible foods from garbage.
Bald Eagle Facts: 76-79 | Place in Food Chain
76. Bald Eagle – the national bird of USA is a tertiary consumer standing at the very apex of a food chain. It dominates almost all other animals.
77. The golden eagle is a tough combatant for Bald Eagle. There are equal chances for any of the eagles to win the competition.
78. However, Bald Eagles are more in number than golden eagles and hence are sighted more often.
79. When it comes to feeding on carrion, it may be overpowered by domestic dogs, lynx, coyotes, etc.
Bald Eagle Facts: 80-86 | Reproduction in National Animal of USA
80. Bald Eagle sexually matures at the age of 4 to 5 years. When it is ready to breed, it mostly goes to the place where it was born.
81. It is thought that the National Bird of USA mates for life. However, if one of the partners passes away, the other partner chooses a new mate.
82. If the partners fail to breed after few attempts, they separate and search other mates.
83. Courtship of Bald Eagle is a sight to witness. It includes calls and flights – chases and swoops, etc.
84. The territory of a Bald Eagle couple is nearly 2 kilometers in a waterside habitat.
85. For breeding, Bald Eagle prefers any wetland habitat like seacoasts, lakes, rivers, marshes, etc.
86. It prefers any water body which has more than 11 kilometers circumference and lakes with more than 10 square kilometer area.
Bald Eagle Facts: 87-107 | Nesting Habits of National Animal of America
87. For nesting, Bald Eagle prefers hardwood or coniferous trees. However, location, height, and composition of the tree are more important than the species of the tree.
88. The trees should be minimum 20 meters tall with good visibility, and proximity to prey is necessary.
89. In marshy land, if the tree is in water, then the nesting is pretty low. It nests just 6 meters above the ground. But on dry land, the nest is usually at the height of 16 to 38 meters above the ground.
90. Canopy cover (tree cover formed by the crown of the trees) should not be less than 20% and should not be more than 60%.
93. Height and width of trees vary with the location. For example: In Florida, the average height is 23 meters, and the average width is 23 centimeters, and in the Chesapeake Bay, the average height is around 28 meters, and average width is 82 centimeters.
94. Proximity to water is very important. Most of the nests of Bald Eagles are found within the range of 200 meters of the water body.
95. The nests of Bald Eagle are pretty large to accommodate the young birds. The largest ever recorded nest was seen in Florida in 1963 with 20 feet depth and 10 feet width.
96. Just like the height and width of the trees, species of trees is also taken into consideration while building a nest. In Florida, slash pines, loblolly pines, longleaf pines, cypress trees are favored whereas in Wyoming mature cottonwoods and pinewoods along the shore are preferred.
97. In Southeast Alaska, Sitka spruce is the most preferred tree species for building a nest and provide 78% of the nesting trees for Bald Eagles. Hemlocks offer 20% nesting trees and clinch the second spot.
98. Bald Eagles are extremely sensitive to human presence and try to remain aloof from any human contact. They try to maintain a minimum of 1 to 2 kilometers of distance from the human population.
99. They become less sensitive to human disturbance during winters because of the scarcity of food.
100. However, they are seen in estuaries and sanctuaries like Portland’s River Willamette.
101. The nest built by Bald Eagle is the largest nest in entire North America.
102. The nest once built is used over and over again with new materials being added every year. This building up of the material increases the depth of the nest to nearly 4 meters and width to 2.5 meters. It weighs about one metric ton!
103. The largest nest ever recorded, not just for Bald Eagle but also for any animal, was found in Florida. It had a depth of 6.1 meters, the width of 2.9 meters and weighed astounding 2.7 metric tons!
104. The lifespan of a nest may usually be around five years as the nests either succumb to winds, or the tree branches fail to take the weight of the nest.
105. However, there was one case in the Midwest where one single nest was used for 34 years.
106. Just like other birds, Bald Eagle builds its nest using branches. In Alaska, very few Bald Eagles build its nest on the ground as well.
107. They build their nests even on Hecho cactuses in Sonora, Mexico. There are reports that Bald Eagles built nests on cliffs and rock pinnacles in California, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, etc. But now such sightings are limited to Arizona and Alaska.
Bald Eagle Facts: 108-128 | Eggs and Fledglings of The National Animal of USA
108. The national bird of USA (also the national animal of USA) starts nest building in early February, lay eggs in late February, and the incubation period is between mid-March and May.
109. Eggs usually hatch in mid-April or early May, and the young ones fledge (developing feathers good enough for flying) by mid-June to early July.
110. The eggs can have a length of 58 to 85 millimeters (73mm is average) and a width of 47 to 63 millimeters (54mm is the average).
111. Eggs present in areas which are quite far away from equator weigh more than the eggs in warmer regions.
112. Female Bald Eagle produces one to three eggs a year – two eggs a year being typical. A female Bald Eagle can produce nearly seven eggs a year if it is in captivity.
113. Rarely four eggs are seen which indicates rare cases of polygyny.
114. It is uncommon to see all the young ones become adults. The first egg to hatch develops and attracts parents’ attention through its calls and size.
115. Just like in raptors, the eldest chick may end up killing its younger siblings.
116. Eggs get incubated mostly by the female bird, but sometimes even the male Bald Eagle also helps.
117. While one of the parents is incubating, the other searches for food and material for building the nest.
118. For the first three weeks, one parent is seen at the nest nearly 100% of the time. But after six weeks, it drastically decreases.
119. An eaglet can gain as much as 170 grams a day. This rate is the fastest growth rate seen in any bird of North America.
120. The eaglet learns how to hold stuff, plays tug of war with its siblings, learns to flap its wings and also learns to use its talons.
121. At eight weeks, the eaglets can flap their wings and slowly fly in the sky. They fledge at 8 to 14 weeks of age.
122. However, they will remain close to the nest and under the careful eye of their parents.
123. This continues for six weeks. Eight weeks after they fledge, they start moving away from their parents.
124. These fledglings now also known as immature Bald Eagles live their own life and reach sexual maturity at four or five years.
125. The immature Bald Eagle’s plumage is dark brown with white streaks all around the body. It also has a black and yellow-tipped beak.
126. Departure time depends on sex, growth, and development.
127. Fun fact: a pair of eagles adopted a red-tailed hawk’s fledgling into their family.
128. It was seen in Shoal Harbor Migratory Bird Sanctuary, Sydney, British Columbia. It case noted on June 9th, 2017. The hawk fledgling named Spunky survived.
Bald Eagle Facts: 129-148 | Life Expectancy and Causes of Death of Bald Eagle – the National Bird of USA
129. On an average, Bald Eagle lives for about 20 years in the wild. One eagle lived for 38 years (highest in the wild).
130. Like most other animals, they live longer in captivity. One captive eagle in New York lived for over 50 years.
131. Adult Bald Eagles have very high survival rates like 100% in Florida, 88% in Alaska.
132. National Wildlife Health Centre studied the causes of death from the years 1963 to 1984 and found out that 68% of the eagles died because of humans.
133. Toughest time for Bald Eagle to survive is when they are born. Once they reach one-year age, their mortality rate decreases significantly.
134. Egg fatalities, the collapse of nests, sibling rivalry, are other main reasons for Bald Eagle fatalities. Predation is another major cause. Gulls, brown bears, coyotes, bobcats, eagles, etc. prey on the eggs.
135. Bald Eagles were numerous during the 18th century. However, their numbers sharply declined in the mid-20th century.
136. One of the major reasons for such sharp decline in the population of the national bird of USA by mid-20th century is the brittleness of the eggshells because of biomagnification (increase in the concentration of a toxic chemical in bodies of animals at higher levels in a food chain) resulting out of excessive use of a pesticide known as DDT.
137. DDT altered the chemical metabolism which led to either of the two things – making the bird sterile or the bird losing the ability to lay healthy eggs.
138. The eggs were so brittle that there was almost no chance that they can take the brooding adult and even before hatching, they broke off.
139. Another reason was legal and illegal hunting. Farmers used to think that Bald Eagles kill lambs and children, and hence were shot down at sight.
140. In 1984, National Wildlife Federation stated that power-line electrocution, hunting, and collisions in flight are how Bald Eagles mostly die.
141. Other reasons for their death are oil, mercury, etc. pollution, the intrusion of predators at nests.
142. By Migratory Bird Treaty (1918), Bald Eagle was protected in US and Canada. Later it was extended to the whole of North America.
143. In 1940, US Congress passed The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act which protected both these raptors.
144. In 1967, Bald Eagle was declared as an endangered species in the United States of America.
145. From 1962 to 1972 many amendments were made to the1940 act to make rules and punishments for killing Bald Eagles stringent.op
146. In 1972, DDT was banned from usage in the USA, and it was banned in Canada in 1989. This helped in increasing the population of the national bird of USA.
147. With all these efforts, the numbers steadily started soaring high. Alaska has the highest number of Bald Eagles in the US.
148. Florida, Minnesota, British Columbia (Canada), etc. also have a high number of Bald Eagles.
Bald Eagle Facts: 149-152 | Conservation Status of Bald Eagle – the National Bird of USA
149. On 12th July 1995, US Federal government officially removed Bald Eagle from the endangered list. US Fish & Wildlife Service changed the status from Endangered to Threatened.
150. On 28th June 2007, it was de-listed from Threatened and added into Least Concern on IUCN’s Red List.
151. Permits are necessary if the national bird of USA is to be kept captive. Usually, permits are given to the educational institutes and only if the eagles are hurt in such a way that they can’t fly.
152. Licenses are given in Canada and UK for the usage of Bald Eagle in falconry (using birds of prey for hunting other birds) but not in the US. However, licenses are given in the US for bird shows.
Bald Eagle Facts: 153-162 | National Animal of USA in Native Americans’ Culture
153. Native Americans can keep eagles by obtaining Native American Religious Use permit.
154. Though eagles can live happily in captivity, they cannot reproduce properly even if the conditions are proper.
155. Native Americans use feathers of Bald Eagles and Golden Eagles in religious and spiritual customs.
156. Some cultures consider them as messengers between gods and humans.
157. Feathers of Bald Eagle are used in medicine of Navajo people (a group of Native American people living in Southwestern US).
158. Their wings and leg bones are used for ceremonial customs. Lakota (a tribe of Native Americans) people offer the feathers of Bald Eagle to someone who achieves some important task like when one of their member graduates from college (modern times’ tasks).
159. Pawnee (a Plains Indian tribe) considered Bald Eagles as a symbol of fertility because the parent eagles used to protect their kids ferociously and they built their nests very high.
160. Choctaw (a group of Native American people originally residing in what is now the southeastern US) considers Bald Eagle as a symbol of peace.
161. Bald Eagles symbolize lot many things in pow wow dances and sun dances.
162. There are certain laws which authorize federally recognized Native American tribes to keep the birds and feathers.