The bald facts |

The bald facts

Andy Bourelle

Bald eagle

(Haliaeetus leucocephalus)


The bald eagle is a large raptor, with a characteristic white head and tail, and a dark brown body. Male bald eagles usually measure about 3 feet from head to tail, weigh 7 to 10 pounds and have a wingspan of up to 6 1/2 feet. Females are larger, some reaching 14 pounds with wingspans of up to 8 feet. They have large pale eyes, a powerful yellow beak and black talons. The distinctive white head and tail feathers appear only after the bird is about 4 to 5 years old.


The staple of the bald eagle’s diet is fish, but they feed on almost anything they catch, including ducks, rodents, snakes, turtles and carrion. In the winter, northern bald eagles migrate south and gather in large numbers near open water where fish or other prey are plentiful.


Bald eagles mate for life and are believed to live 30 years or longer in the wild. They build nests in the tops of large trees near rivers, lakes, marshes or other wetlands. Nests are often re-used year after year. With additions made yearly, some nests can reach 10 feet across and weigh up to 2,000 pounds. The breeding season varies throughout the country but typically begins in the winter for southern populations and shifts toward spring for northern populations. Bald eagles normally lay two to three eggs a year, and the eggs hatch after about 35 days. The offspring are flying within three months and are on their own about a month later. Because disease, lack of food, bad weather or human interference can kill many eaglets, often only about half will survive their first year.


The bald eagle is the only eagle unique to North America. It ranges over most of the continent except for extreme northern Alaska and Canada, and central and southern Mexico. In general, bald eagles need an environment of quiet isolation with tall trees and clean water. Although bald eagles range over great distances, they usually return to nest within 100 miles of where they were raised.

Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

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