Body length: 29 to 42 inches (74 to 107 centimeters)
Wingspan: 5.5 to 8 feet (1.7 to 2.4 meters)
Weight: males—6 to 9 pounds (2.7 to 4 kilograms); females— 10 to 15 pounds (4.5 to 6.8 kilograms)
Life span: 25 to 40 years
Number of eggs laid: 1 to 3
Incubation: 35 days
Age of maturity: 4 years
Conservation status: classified as threatened in southern Canada and most of the United States by the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service; still abundant in its northern range, especially in Alaska
A bald eagle can reach a speed of up to 200 miles
per hour (322 kilometers per hour) when diving through the air to
grab a meal.
Benjamin Franklin thought the bald eagle was a poor choice for a national symbol because it sometimes steals food from other birds. He recommended the wild turkey.
When a bald eagle loses a feather on one wing, it will lose a matching one on the other. This way it doesn’t lose its balance!
The largest known eagle nest was found in Florida. It was 9 feet (2.7 meters) across, 20 feet (6 meters) deep, and weighed over two tons (2 tonnes)!
Birds: Bald Eagle
Canada, United States, and northwest Mexico
The founders of the United States wanted a bird to symbolize a nation that they hoped would be strong and powerful, a bird that could soar high in the sky to represent freedom. They chose the bald eagle, a bird of prey found only in North America. You can see images of bald eagles on coins, stamps, and much more!
Are bald eagles really bald?
No! Their heads are covered with short white feathers. The term "bald" may be from the Old English word balde that meant white. Bald eagles are sometimes called American eagles, fishing eagles, Washington eagles, and white-headed eagles. They belong to a scientific grouping of eagles known as sea eagles or fish eagles that includes the Stellar’s sea eagle Haliaeetus pelagicus.
Bald eagles live near bodies of water to be close to their favorite food—fish! No need for a fishing pole—bald eagles come equipped with spiny scales and sharp talons on their toes for gripping slippery fish. A hungry eagle will wait on its favorite perch until it spies a fat fish near the surface. It can swoop down on the water and quickly grab a fish with those special feet. Then, holding tight, the eagle flies back to its nest or a convenient perch in a tree to enjoy its meal. A powerful, hooked beak helps the eagle rip into its food. Bald eagles are still numerous in Alaska, and will gather in huge groups around Alaskan rivers when salmon are abundant. When fish are scarce, bald eagles will hunt rabbits, squirrels, other birds, and even young deer. They have also been known to steal food from other birds!
If someone says you have eagle eyes, take it as a compliment! It means you can see things that others might not notice. Bald eagles can see four to seven times better than humans! They are able to see things sharply from quite far away. This, of course, helps them spot their next meal from high in the sky, or from a lofty perch in a tree or cliff ledge. However, unlike our eyes, an eagle’s eyes can’t move from side to side. So to look around, the eagle has to turn its whole head.
The dating game
It is believed that bald eagles choose a mate for life. To impress each other, a male and female perform a special courtship dance in the sky. They lock on to each other’s talons and tumble and twist in the air. At the last second they let go, just before reaching the ground! To be successful parents, eagles need to find homes where the fishing is good, with large trees for nesting, and little disturbance from humans. Both parents help care for the chicks, called eaglets. The mother does most of the chick-sitting, and the father provides the food for the family.
Home, sweet nest
Most birds make nests of some sort to lay their eggs in, but the bald eagle is a master nest builder. A pair will make a large nest high in a sturdy tree, or sometimes on the ground if no tree is around, and come back to it year after year, adding more twigs, grass, moss, feathers, and branches to the original nest until it becomes huge. Sometimes a nest gets so heavy over the years that its supporting branches break, and the nest comes crashing down! Then the eagle pair has to start all over again. Once the nest is to the eagles’ liking, the female will lay one to three eggs, and both parents take turns keeping the eggs warm day and night until they hatch.
It’s tough to be an eaglet
Eagle mothers lay their eggs several days apart, once a year. The first eaglet to hatch gets an advantage over its younger siblings, since it has had several days to grow! In fact, the biggest eaglet will usually fight for the most food from its parents, and it may even kill its smaller, younger siblings. This is a survival strategy for the eagles—it insures that at least one chick will get a good chance at living to adulthood. Eaglets are a fluffy, light gray color when they hatch. They turn dark brown just before they leave the nest at about 12 weeks old. Their head and neck feathers don’t turn white until they are mature. Life is rough for young eagles, and most don’t survive their first year.
The importance of eagles
Bald eagles are at the top of the food chain, so they have no natural enemies. When their population drops, that means humans have done something to harm the eagles’ wild habitat. In the mid 1900s, farmers began using pesticides to protect their crops from insects. They didn’t realize that eagles would eat fish from bodies of water that had been contaminated by overuse of the poison. Eagles became endangered. Fortunately, the use of pesticides is better regulated now and bald eagles have made a dramatic comeback in some states. However, what happened to them shows how all wildlife is linked together. One way to help eagles and other birds is to recycle paper, so that there will be more trees left for them to nest in.