Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
Body and Skeletal Structure:
The bald eagle’s body length typically ranges from 28 to 43 in (71-109 cm) while their wingspan is from 5.5 to 8 ft (1.7-2.4 m). Their weight is usually from 6 to 15 lbs (2.7-6.8 kg). Unlike most other animals, the females are actually a bit heavier and bigger in size then the males.
Bald eagles have white-feathered heads and tails, and their eyes and bills are of a yellow hue. These birds also have dark, brown-feathered bodies (which may sometimes appear black). They also have large necks, heads, bills, and feet with sharp talons.
Fun Fact: 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.
These powerful, carnivorous, feathered creatures typically prey upon fish, rodents, other birds, and even young deer. However, these birds get many of their meals by scavenging carrion or stealing the kills of other animals.
These birds typically live a lifespan of 15 to 20 years.
Mating Season: Anywhere from late September to early April (depends on the region)
Incubation Period: About 35 days
Clutch Size: 1-3 eggs
Communication and Behavior:
Bald eagles are believed to be monogamous, mating for life. To impress each other, a male and female perform a special aerial 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. These bald eagles are also master nest builders. A pair makes a large nest high in a sturdy tree, or sometimes on the ground if no tree is around. The birds come back to their nest year after year, adding more twigs, grass, moss, branches, and feathers 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 lays its eggs. Both parents take turns keeping the eggs warm day and night until they hatch. Once they do, both parents help care for the eaglets. The mother does most of the chick-sitting, and the father provides the food for the family. 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.
Contrary to popular perception, most bald eagles are silent and have relatively weak, high-pitched, thin vocalizations, made up of chirps, whistles, harsh chatters, and cackling calls. These birds usually produce 3 main types of calls: a chatter, a wail, and a peal (which is a long, high-pitched cry used when threats are perceived). Additionally, these birds may communicate threats with a variety of visual displays such as wing motions, head motions and crouching. Breeding pairs often vocalize to each other when returning to their nest and have tremendous flying displays such as the one mentioned previously.
Habitat and Range:
Bald eagles are almost always found near some kind of body of water: on lakes, rivers, sounds, or seas. Most live in tundra and forest habitat, but others live in mangrove swamps. A few pairs dwell in desert regions. Though the bald eagle is a very adaptable bird, it prefers to avoid human recreation areas and all the dangers and discomfort they entail.
Bald Eagles are listed as a species of least concern in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Despite this, they are still threatened by climate change, pesticide use, mercury poisoning, electrocution, vehicle collisions, and many more factors caused by human activity.