Bald Eagles: Facts You May Not Know
Facts About Bald Eagles
The mature bald eagle has been the national symbol of the United States since 1782. The mature bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) is not bald, but has a white head and a brown body.
Pesticides, such as DDT, almost wiped out the eagle population in the first two-thirds of the 20th century. Shooting is another cause of their decline. They were put on the endangered species list in 1967. On June 28, 2007, they were taken off the list, and there are 10,000 nesting pair at this time.
Species Size: How Big Are They?
Bald eagles, both male and female, are large birds. The female tends to be approximately 25% larger than males, and they reach maturity and mate in 4-5 years. As an adult, the color is primarily blackish-brown with a white head and tail, yellow claws, and they have a yellow, hooked beak. Their eyes are about the size of a human being, but their sharpness is four times better than a person with perfect vision. They do not actually have vocal cords, but they do make high-pitched shrills and twittering.
- The further away from the Equator and the tropics, the larger the bird.
- These birds may live up to 28 years in the wild, and 32 years when they are in captivity, although the average life span is 15-20 years.
- Length: 27.9–37.8 inches
- Wingspan: Over 8 feet
- Weight: Up to 14 pounds
The Eagle has landed.— Neil Armstrong
Call of a Bald Eagle
Species Habitat: Where Are They Found?
Bald eagles can be found in all of North America and in northern Mexico. However, about half of the eagles (70,00) live in Alaska. British Columbia has another 20,000. Golden eagles live on other continents, but the bald eagle is only found in North America.
They live in the Northwest areas due to the salmon and dead or flying fish. This is the most important food source, although they also eat a variety of other things, such as carrion, rodents and smaller birds. They are known as opportunistic predators. They also live in other habitats like the bayous of Louisiana, throughout Texas and in New England.
Eagles can sit on the water using their wings as oars to hunt for fish. Some have drowned on occasions where their prey weighs too much. They can also fly very low across the water or land to seek prey. They do migrate toward water when rivers freeze over.
While these eagles may sit at the top of the food chain, they are vulnerable to toxic chemicals in fish and in the environment. Toxic chemicals tend to weaken their ability to produce, and their eggshells are weakened.
Males and females usually mate for life and build their nests together in very tall trees on cliffs. The nests are large and may be as high as 180’ in the tree. However, their nests can also be found on the ground on northern islands.
Their nests are usually made with a mound of sticks, then lined with softer material. The nest will grow over the years and become very large as the eagles tend to come back to it over the years.
But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.— Isaiah 40:31-1
Facts About Eaglets
They usually lay 1–3 eggs and incubation lasts from 34–36 days. Both parents participate. For the first two weeks, one of the parents is always on the nest. The other parent looks for prey, which they tear into small pieces and feed to the babies. From 3–6 weeks the young begin pecking on the food dropped into the nest. If a season occurs where food is scarce only the largest birds may survive. Their first flight occurs between 10–12 weeks.
It takes approximately 5 years for these babies to have adult plumage. When they are born, their feathers are a mixture of white and brown. They have a black beak, which doesn’t turn yellow until maturity at 5 years.
United States National Seal
United States National Emblem
On June 20, 1782, the Continental Congress adopted the bald eagle design for the Great Seal of the United States. The seal depicts the species grasping an olive branch with 13 leaves and 13 arrows with his other talon.
“Contrary to popular legend, there is no evidence that Benjamin Franklin ever publicly supported the wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo), rather than the bald eagle, as a symbol of the United States. He did write his daughter from Paris stating his person distaste for the eagle and he stated the bald eagle had 'bad moral character.'”
The official seal appears on most of the U.S. government documents. The seal is used to mark all correspondence from the president to Congress. The seal dates back to 1850, and maybe longer. The seal is also the official coat of arms, and it appears on the presidential flag.
From 1916 and 1946, the presidential flag had the eagle facing to the left, which started the urban legend that if it faces left toward the olive branch, that means peace. If it faces toward the arrows, it meant wartime.
9 Facts You Didn’t Know About the Species
Bald eagles are a large bird that can have a rather vicious look at times with their curved beaks. They have such an interesting history and serve predominantly as the U.S. Great Seal.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
What are the relatives to the bald eagle?
There are 60 different species of eagles. They are birds of prey but they have no relatives.
© 2019 Pamela Oglesby