Monday, April 11, 2011

Apple #517: Bald Eagle Facts

I saw a bald eagle today.  For real and in the flesh.  Not in a zoo either, in the wild.  I was standing on an overlook and the eagle flew right past, almost at eye level.  Of course I didn't have my camera out and turned on, so I don't have a picture to document this fact.  But there were several other people standing there at the time, and they saw the eagle too.

It really was pretty majestic.

So here are some facts about bald eagles:

  • Bald eagles mainly eat fish.

Bald eagle snatching up a relatively small fish, compared to what it's capable of lifting.
(Photo by Graig Eldred at Random Living on a North Woods Farm)

  • If they can't get fish, they'll eat ducks or other small birds, sometimes small pets, or even roadkill.
  • Because they like fish, their migration paths follow wind currents that will take them to fresh, unfrozen water.  Some migrate south and others migrate toward the coasts.
  • They can fly as fast as 30 to 35 mph, and as high as 10,000 feet.
  • Measuring 35 to 37 inches, the female is slightly larger than the male.
  • Their wingspan is about 7 feet.

Here's a pretty typical photo of a bald eagle with its wings outstretched. But with nothing but sky around, it's hard to get a sense of just how big that wingspan is.
(Photo from Alaska-in-Pictures)

This photo gives you a better sense of the wingspan on that 35-inch bird.
(Photo from The Zen Birdfeeder)

  • Bald eagles weigh about 10 to 14 pounds.
  • They can lift about 4 pounds' worth of food.
  • Only about 1 in 18 hunting attempts is successful.
  • It is very common for a bald eagle to go several days without food.
  • They are monogamous.  Once paired, they will remain together until one of them dies.
  • When courting, a pair will fly high in the air, lock talons together, and together they'll free-fall in a cartwheel fashion toward the ground.  They break apart only at the last minute.
This is one of a series of photos of a pair cartwheeling. Click here to see the whole cartwheel process.
(Photo and series by Jon McRay at the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge)

  • Males and females will vocalize or call to each other, and they may also warn other eagles of possible danger in the area.
  • They don't make the screech that so many TV shows and movies associate with them.  That screech belongs to a red-tailed hawk.  Bald eagles actually make a shrill twittering sound. Listen to bald eagle audio here.
  • Their Latin name describes their behavior and appearance: Haliaeetus leucophalus means Sea (halo) eagle (aeetos) with a white (leuco) head (phalus).  So technically we should probably refer to them as White Eagles.  ("Bald" once upon a time did mean "white.")

Bald eaglets. Way too cute and fuzzy.  These two were born in the San Francisco Zoo.
(Photo from Animals Aloud)

  • It takes five years before a juvenile eagle loses its brown-and-white mixed coloring and attains its adult dark brown plumage.  Around this time is when the birds become sexually mature and can begin breeding.
  • They like to build their nests in forested areas next to rivers with lots of fish.  If the food is plentiful, they will return to the same nest year after year.  

Bald eagles use sticks to build some of the largest nests in the world. Some can be as large as 9 feet in diameter and weigh as much as 2 tons.
(Photo from Dwelling in the Word)

  • In the wild, they can live as long as 30 years.
  • On the brink of extinction due to human activities -- hunting in the mistaken belief that they killed livestock, loss of habitat, DDT poisoning -- in recent years they have been seen nesting and fishing in areas all across the United States, from Michigan to Florida, Alaska to California.  
  • Bald eagles were taken off the Endangered Species List in 2007.  Finally, a wildlife victory!

American Bald Eagle Information

Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Bald Eagle
West Sound Wildlife Shelter, Fun Wildlife Facts, Bald Eagles


  1. Even though they are taken off the endangered species; I hope it is still illegal to shoot such a beautiful; majestic bird. Love to see the bald head eagle.

  2. I agree so much. Since I live in America I think it should be illegal to shoot them! Its our symbol!!!


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