Photo: Robert Bailey/Audubon Photography Awards

Priority Bird

Bald Eagle

Haliaeetus leucocephalus

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.
Conservation status 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.
Family Hawks and Eagles
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.
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.
Photo Gallery
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.


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.

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.


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.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Migration

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.

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Migration

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.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Squeaky cackling and thin squeals.