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Bald Eagle

Scientific Classification

The bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) is a bird of prey found in North America. A sea eagle, it has two known subspecies and forms a species pair with the white-tailed eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla), which occupies the same niche as the bald eagle in the Palearctic. Its range includes most of Canada and Alaska, all of the contiguous United States, and northern Mexico. It is found near large bodies of open water with an abundant food supply and old-growth trees for nesting.

Bald eagles were on the brink of extinction because of hunting and pollution. But laws created almost 40 years ago have helped protect them, and they’ve made a comeback.

Bald Eagle Appearance

Bald eagles are not actually bald; the name derives from an older meaning of the word, “white headed”. The adult is mainly brown with a white head and tail. The sexes are identical in plumage, but females are about 25 percent larger than males. The yellow beak is large and hooked. The plumage of the immature is brown.

The identification of this American bird is a relatively simple matter. Measuring about 28 to 38 inches tall from head to tail, it easily ranks among the largest birds in all of North America. When its wings are outstretched as it soars gracefully in the sky, the bald eagle can sometimes reach more than seven feet from one tip to the other. Most of the body is covered in dark brown plumage, but the head and tail feathers are both covered in white feathers. They also have strong yellow talons and sharp beaks, specialized for killing prey. It’s estimated that the female is about 25% larger than the male on average, but otherwise, both sexes look the exact same, which makes identification very difficult unless they’re standing side by side.

Bald Eagle Habitat

The bald eagle is the only member of the sea eagle genus to live in North America. There have been sightings as far south as Belize and Bermuda and as far north as the Arctic. The most common habitats are mature forests with a large source of water nearby.

The bald eagle pair prefers to construct its nest in the canopy of tall trees. If that isn’t available, then it may choose a cliff face, an artificial structure, or the ground. Sticks are woven together and lined with lichen or moss to construct the nest. Measuring some five to six feet in diameter, it is perhaps the largest nest of any American bird.

Diet and feeding

The bald eagle is an opportunistic carnivore with the capacity to consume a great variety of prey. Throughout their range, fish often comprise the majority of the eagle’s diet. In 20 food habit studies across the species’ range, fish comprised 56% of the diet of nesting eagles, birds 28%, mammals 14% and other prey 2%.

Bald eagles can soar over 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) high, and their great eyesight lets them see fish up to a mile (1.6 kilometers) away. When they attack, they drop down at up to 100 miles (161 kilometers) an hour! Then they glide just above the water, snag a fish with their feet, and fly off to eat it.

Reproduction and Life Cycle

Bald eagles are sexually mature at four or five years of age. When they are old enough to breed, they often return to the area where they were born. It is thought that bald eagles mate for life. However, if one member of a pair dies or disappears, the survivor will choose a new mate. A pair which has repeatedly failed in breeding attempts may split and look for new mates.

The nest is the largest of any bird in North America; it is used repeatedly over many years and with new material added each year may eventually be as large as 4 m (13 ft) deep, 2.5 m (8.2 ft) across and weigh 1 metric ton.

Eagles produce between one and three eggs per year, two being typical. Rarely, four eggs have been found in nests, but these may be exceptional cases of polygyny. Eagles in captivity have been capable of producing up to seven eggs. It is rare for all three chicks to successfully reach the fledgling stage. The oldest chick often bears the advantage of larger size and louder voice, which tends to draw the parents’ attention towards it. Occasionally, as is recorded in many large raptorial birds, the oldest sibling sometimes attacks and kills its younger sibling(s), especially early in the nesting period when their sizes are most different.

Bald Eagle Lifespan

The average lifespan of bald eagles in the wild is around 20 years, with the oldest confirmed one having been 38 years of age. In captivity, they often live somewhat longer. In one instance, a captive individual in New York lived for nearly 50 years. As with size, the average lifespan of an eagle population appears to be influenced by its location and access to prey.

3 Bald Eagle Facts!

  1. One of the most amazing facts about the bald eagle is its remarkable vision. This bird can see four to five times as well as the typical human. It has superior color vision and the ability to see ultraviolet light. And it has a 340-degree field of view, which nearly wraps around behind its heads. The excellent vision helps to compensate for the other weaker senses.
  2. The bald eagle will sometimes save energy by stealing the freshly killed prey of another bird. This behavior prompted Benjamin Franklin to say that the bald eagle was a bird of “bad moral character.”
  3. The bald eagle has been the national bird of the United States since 1782.

Bald Eagle (Frequently Asked Questions)

Northern populations are migratory, while southern populations spend most of the year in the same place.

The number of bald eagles, once teetering on the brink of extinction, has rebounded from an all-time low of 417 known nesting pairs observed in 1963 among the lower 48 states to 316,700 individuals, according to a study released last week by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Bald Eagle has been the national emblem of the United States since 1782 and a spiritual symbol for native people for far longer than that. These regal birds aren’t really bald, but their white-feathered heads gleam in contrast to their chocolate-brown body and wings.

An adult bald eagle does not have any natural predators in the wild. However, the chicks are preyed upon by bobcats, wolverines, black bears, foxes, raccoons, and large birds.

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