Bald Eagle

Haliaeetus leucocephalus

Photo by D. L. Pietryka -

Besides being our nation's symbol, Bald Eagles are one of our largest birds. They grow almost three feet tall, with a wingspan of close to seven feet. Females are usually slightly larger than males.

Adult eagles are blackish-brown with a white head and tail. Bald eagles also have a long, heavy yellow bill which is curved for tearing prey.

Young eagles are mostly dark. They do not get the white head and tail until they are full grown.

Bald Eagles live near water, including lakes, rivers, marshes, bays, and oceans. They are most often seen flying high above land or water, or perched at the tops of trees.

Eagles can fly about 65 miles per hour in regular flight, and up to 200 miles per hour in a dive. They can also swim when they need to.

Even though bald eagles migrate, we have them in our area year-round.

Photo by Martin Fulfer, TPWD

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Bald Eagles breed when they are five years old. When a male and female get together, they perform a courtship display which includes diving and locking talons (claws) in the air. Bald eagles mate for life, staying together unless one of them dies.

Eagles make huge nests, up to nine feet across, and weighing about two tons. Most of the nest is made of large branches. Other nest materials include: sticks, moss, grasses, leaves, weeds, and sprigs (branches and twigs with green leaves or needles still on them).

Nests are usually built in tall trees, especially Eastern White Pine and aspens. A pair of eagles uses the same nest each year, adding new materials.


Female bald eagles lay two or three eggs. Both parents protect the nest. Sometimes older nestlings kill their yournger siblings. Young eagles can fly when they are about three months old, but parents continue to feed them for another month and a half until they learn to hunt. About half of eagles die before they are a year old.

Bald Eagles eat mostly fish, both dead and alive. Dead or dying fish, washed up on shore, are a favorite food. Other foods include: ducks, snakes, turtles, muskrats, rabbits, frogs, fawns (baby deer), mice, snails, other birds, vulture vomit, and carrrion.

Bald eagles often chase other raptors (bird predators), especially Osprey, until they drop their kills. When the other bird drops its prey, the eagle immediately stops chasing and grabs the food.

Some birds eagles compete for food with include Osprey, gulls, ravens, and hawks.

Bald eagles keep an eye out for crowds of crows, gulls, or vultures. They then swoop in and steal carrion (dead animal).



Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

Great Horned Owls sometimes compete for eagle nests. Owls breed before eagles do, so they try to move in before the eagles get there.

Great Horned Owls and mice also nest in the lower parts of a big nest made by eagles -- even when the eagles are using it!

Because of their size, adult Bald Eagles have very few predators. Some animals which attack eggs or nestlings include squirrels, Raccoons, Ravens, and Great Horned Owls.

Crows, which don't like any raptors, will harrass (bother) eagles, but rarely do any harm.

Bald eagles can spot a fish when they are hundreds of feet above water. This is because eagles have excellent eyesight. They can also spot prey at great distances when they are perched.

Scientists think the reason eagles put sprigs of trees in their nests, is because the odor helps keep away parasites, such as blow flies. Eastern White Pine sprigs seem to be the eagles' top choice. Parasites could weaken, or even kill, a young eagle.


Copyright, Jim Henry

Additional Media

Bald Eagle Call
Harry Foundalis Home Page
Bald Eagle Coloring Page
Link to Printable Page
Bald Eagle Webcam
Link to Live Camera
U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Bald Eagles Building Nest
Link to Video
Northeast Utilities System
Bald Eagles Incubating Eggs
Link to Video
Northeast Utilities System
Bald Eagles With Eggs
Link to Video
Northeast Utilities System
Bald Eagles With Chicks
Link to Video
Northeast Utilities System

Relationships in Nature:


Largemouth Bass


Eastern White Pine

Great Horned Owl S

Common Carp

Eastern Gray Squirrel

Bigtooth Aspen

Osprey EC

Black Crappie

Ring-billed Gull

Virginia Pine

Ring-billed Gull EC

Northern Hog Suciker

Great Horned Owl

White Cushion Moss

White-footed Mouse S

Channel Catfish

Kentucky Bluegrass

Turkey Vulture EC

Yellow Perch


American Crow EC


Loblolly Pine

Blue Bottle Fly Pa

Wood Duck

Eastern Redcedar

Ring-billed Gull EC


Eastern Painted Turtle

Eastern Cottontail


Meadow Vole

White-tailed Deer

Vulture vomit

Beaver (carrion)

Raccoon (carrion)

Red Fox (carrion)

Stagnant Pond Snail

American Eel

Relationship to Humans:

Even though we chose this bird as our nation's symbol, we have given the Bald Eagle a hard time. For years, farmers killed them, afraid they would prey upon their livestock. More recently, bald eagles were place on the Endangered Species list when pesticides (chemicals used to keep pests off of crops) caused eagle eggs to weaken and not hatch. When people noticed the eagles had almost disappeared, we began to protect and care for them. The government passed laws making it illegal to harm them, and we have found some ways to protect crops that aren't so dangerous. Even though Bald Eagles are no longer endangered, it is still illegal to harm them or bother them. We are lucky in Northern Virginia, to have great habitat for eagles, and they can be seen (if you look!) year-round.


Haliaeetus leucocephalus



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