Closely associated with rivers and coastlines, the majestic Bald Eagle is America's national bird. A symbol of strength and power, and a sacred symbol for many Native American peoples, these eagles are one of the most recognizable birds on Earth.
Bald Eagle hunting over a lake, Alaska
Bald Eagle in flight
Close up of a pair of Bald Eagles
Family:Kites, hawks and eagles
70cm to 90cm
165cm to 244cm
2kg to 6.3kg
Bald Eagles are massive birds of prey, instantly recognizable by their white heads and tails, and chocolate-brown bodies. Their legs and large, hooked bills are yellow, and a close view reveals their piercing pale, yellow-blue eyes. Their scientific name translates as ‘white-headed sea-eagle.’
Female Bald Eagles look much the same as their male counterparts. One visible physical difference lies in their size. Females may be as much as a third larger than males, a common phenomenon in birds of prey.
Juvenile Bald Eagles look distinct from adults and may be confused for another majestic American raptor, the Golden Eagle. That’s because young Bald Eagles don’t develop their characteristic white heads and yellow bills for their first five years or so. Until then, juveniles are mostly dark brown with yellow legs and increasing amounts of white plumage.
Close up of a perched Bald Eagle
The Bald Eagle is an impressive bird both in flight and when perched. Their body length varies from about 2⅓ to 3 feet (0.7 - 0.9 m), with males being the smaller sex.
Despite their large size, Bald Eagles are surprisingly light. Females are significantly heavier than males, weighing up to nearly 14 pounds (6.3 kg) in some areas. However, adult mass can be as low as 6½ pounds (3 kg).
Bald Eagles have large, broad wings that end in a handful of exaggerated primary feathers. Their impressive wingspan can measure upwards of 6 ½ feet (2 m), making them a truly inspiring sight when soaring!
For more information on Bald Eagle size, check out this guide.
Bald Eagle coming in to land, around Kachemak Bay, Alaska
The stirring cry most commonly associated with Bald Eagles in popular culture is, in fact, that of the Red-tailed Hawk. Read on to learn what a Bald Eagle really sounds like.
America’s National Birds are better known for their great size and striking appearance than their vocal abilities.
Bald Eagles produce soft, ‘thin’ calls during aggressive displays, when defending their nest, or while mating. These calls are best described as squeals and are usually produced in a quick sequence.
Bald Eagles have a varied diet and are not too proud to scavenge or even steal from other birds and animals. Keep reading to learn more about their diet.
Bald Eagles are carnivorous birds, but that does not mean they only hunt live prey. These birds rely heavily on carrion, especially fish. However, they can also hunt live fish, waterbirds, and small mammals.
Bald Eagles feed on the following prey animals:
Baby Bald Eagles are fed by both parents, and the most important food source is fish. The adult birds tear small, bite-sized strips and present them directly to their chicks’ bills. In their second month, the young learn to use their own bills, although they rely on their parents for food for many weeks after fledging the nest.
Bald Eagle hunting for prey
Bald Eagles have a wide distribution, but you’re most likely to spot them near their favorite habitats. Read this section to learn more about their range and habitat preferences.
As a sea eagle species, Bald Eagles are generally associated with water. They are usually seen in close proximity to rivers, swamps, lakes, and coastlines.
Bald Eagles are endemic to North America. They can be seen virtually throughout the Lower 48 States and most of Alaska. These birds are also widespread in Canada, and low numbers visit and breed in the far north of Mexico.
Bald Eagles spend most of their time perched on the ground, on trees, and at other vantage points where they can rest or look out for a meal. They also spend a significant amount of time (2-7% of the day) flying and soaring through the skies.
At night, these birds roost in large trees within a few miles of their hunting grounds. They often roost in groups during the non-breeding season when they are less territorial.
Bald Eagle screeching in a pine tree
The total population of Bald Eagles in the Contiguous United States was estimated at 316,700 individuals in 2020.
They can be plentiful in some areas, and large numbers occur in States like Florida, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Bald Eagles can be even more common in Canada, and the highest numbers breed in Alaska.
Bald Eagles are not native to the United Kingdom, although some specimens are kept in captivity. However, birdwatchers can spot the closely related White-tailed Eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla) in Scotland and the Southeast coastline of England.
Alaska is the best place to see Bald Eagles
Bald Eagles are relatively long-lived birds that enjoy their position as apex predators at the top of the food chain. However, they can succumb to a number of causes, from shooting to starvation. Keep reading to learn more about their longevity and conservation status.
Bald Eagles can live well over thirty years in the wild, although their average lifespan is much shorter. Many young eagles perish within their first year, and the youngest chick from larger clutches often dies of starvation. However, individuals that reach adulthood have few predators and usually live for many years.
Adult Bald Eagles have few predators, although sick or injured individuals are vulnerable to larger carnivores like coyotes. However, many smaller carnivores and birds prey on their eggs and chicks, including foxes, ravens, and gulls.
Bald Eagles may have been removed from the Endangered Species List, but they are still protected in the United States by the following two federal laws:
Bald Eagles are no longer endangered. In fact, the species is listed as a ‘Least Concern’ species by the IUCN. They were officially removed from the endangered species list in 2007.
Juvenile Bald Eagle in flight - underside view, showing the interesting plumage
Bald Eagles begin breeding when they are four or five years old and raise just one brood each year. Read on for more fascinating facts about their nesting habits.
Bald Eagles nest in every state of the Continental United States. Pairs usually breed near aquatic and marine habitats that provide a rich food source for themselves and their chicks.
The nest is usually built in the branches of a large, sturdy tree, although Bald Eagles will nest on cliffs in areas without large trees.
Bald Eagles lay one to three large white eggs. The average egg measures about three inches (76 mm) long and two inches wide (51 mm) and weighs a little over four ounces (113 g).
Bald Eagles will mate for life or until either partner passes away. Much time and effort go into raising their chicks, so it makes sense to stick with a successful partner rather than play the field. Some pairs remain together throughout the year, even outside the nesting season.
Nesting Bald Eagle with young eaglet in the nest
The mighty Bald Eagle was a somewhat controversial choice when first suggested as the United States National Bird. In fact, President Benjamin Franklin disagreed with its appointment, calling it ‘a bird of bad moral character’.
Bald Eagles can be aggressive toward other birds, including members of their own species. Not only do Bald Eagles hunt waterbirds, but they will also use intimidation to steal a meal from other birds of prey like Ospreys and other fishing birds like Great Blue Herons.
Bald Eagles will fight amongst each other, and these conflicts can be fatal in some cases. Puncture wounds from their sharp talons can cause significant injuries, so most individuals avoid physical attacks.
Bald Eagles are rarely aggressive toward humans, and bird watchers can enjoy sightings of these majestic birds without fear. However, isolated attacks have been reported, and all wild animals should be given the respect they deserve.
A group of Bald Eagles, perched on the rocky by the water
Many birds migrate between overwintering and breeding grounds to take advantage of seasonal food sources and climatic conditions. Bald Eagles are not well known for their migratory behaviors, although they do, in fact, undertake seasonal movements.
Continue reading to learn about their migratory behaviors.
Bald Eagles are partial migrants, which means some migrate, while others remain in the same areas throughout the year. Individuals that breed in the north tend to migrate south to warmer states when their hunting grounds freeze over, and fishing becomes impossible.
Where food supplies are available throughout the year, they often stay put, although young birds are nomadic for their first few years, sometimes traveling thousands of miles before settling. Bald Eagles generally migrate during the day and usually travel alone.
The Crowned eagle or African crowned eagle is a powerful eagle from the family Accipitridae which includes both eagles and many other birds of prey. Dubbed the ‘most powerful eagle in Africa’, the Crowned eagle is a long-lengthed bird of prey with a large wingspan of around 1.8m. Occupying diverse habitats stretching much of Sub-Saharan Africa, the Crowned eagle is capable of catching prey some 4 to 6 times its weight.
One of the world’s largest and most powerful birds, the Harpy Eagle has a fearsome reputation. These impressive raptors prey on monkeys and other large prey by snatching them from the forest canopy with oversized feet and talons.
One of the world’s largest birds of prey, it is also known as Steller’s Fish Eagle, the White Shouldered Eagle and a Pacific Sea Eagle. The bird is monotypic meaning there are no subspecies.
A ‘scruffy’ bird of prey, with a diverse diet and able to thrive in a wide range of habitats, the whistling kite is native to Australia. It is also found on some of the nearby South Pacific islands and island groups, but does not occur outside of this particular region.
Europe’s smallest eagle, the booted eagle, otherwise known as the Booted Hawk Eagle, prefers the warmer climes of southern Europe and south central Asia and whilst not threatened globally, its population within Europe is showing signs of decline.
A member of the sub-family of booted eagles due to its feather covered legs and named after the famous Italian ornithologist Franco Andrea Bonelli, the species is considered endangered across Europe but secure elsewhere within its range.
The White-tailed Eagle is the UK’s largest raptor and an iconic species making a triumphant return.
Woodlands across the UK are home to a stealthy hunter. The Sparrowhawk is a dashing bird of prey that leads a dangerous life.
Rough-legged hawks, known in the UK as rough-legged buzzards, are medium-sized birds of prey that breed in Arctic and sub-Arctic regions of North America, Europe and Asia, before migrating south once they have raised their young.
Soaring gracefully above the UK countryside, the Red Kite is a bird of prey that has returned from the brink of extinction.
This long distance migrant is named after Colonel George Montagu (1753 – 1815), an Englishman who, upon retirement from the British army, became a renowned naturalist and author of an Alphabetical Synopsis of British Birds, published in 1802. There are 16 species of harrier today, all of which are recognised as elegant, soaring birds of prey of the genus Circus meaning circle.
Back from the brink of local extinction, the Marsh Harrier is a localised but increasingly common bird of prey in low-lying wetlands of the United Kingdom.
European Honey Buzzard
The European Honey-Buzzard, which is monotypic, is classified as a bird of prey and is one of six species of Honey-Buzzards from the family Accipitridae, which also includes Kites, Vultures, Harriers, Hawks and Eagles.
Slow but agile in flight, the Hen Harrier is a rare and beautiful ground-nesting raptor of moorlands and other open habitats.
The Northern Goshawk, more commonly known simply as the goshawk, is a large bird of prey, widespread throughout the northern hemisphere, with deciduous and coniferous forests their preferred habitat.
The Golden Eagle inspires awe everywhere it occurs. These majestic raptors soar above suitable habitats across the Northern Hemisphere.
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