The Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), is one of the fish eagles and is a national symbol of the United States. Once listed as a threatened species on the verge of extinction, the bald eagle has made a comeback and is no longer endangered.
1. Physical Characteristics
Although named Bald Eagles, these birds feature white feathers on their heads and tails but these don’t develop for five years. The Bald Eagle’s body has brown feathers. When adults, bald eagles can weigh up to 14 pounds. Females are usually larger than males. The impressive wingspan of a bald eagle ranges from six to eight feet. The Bald Eagle can carry an animal weighing up to four pounds in its talons.
2. Eagle Eye
There is a reason the phrase, “eagle eye” is often used to refer to someone with good eyesight. Bald eagles have exceptional eyesight and can see an animal as small as a rabbit from one mile away. When the bald eagle is flying at 1,000 feet high, it can find prey for 3 square miles.
3. Favorite Foods
The diet of bald eagles consists mainly of fish, reptiles, sea birds, ducks, geese, dead animals and small mammals. Eagles grab their prey in their talons and cannot release it until they land on a solid surface. The eagle then pushes down on the surface to unlock the prey.
4. Flying High
The perfect flying machine, bald eagles can stay in flight for hours, taking advantage of wind currents and updrafts. They can soar up to 10,000 feet high at speeds up to 65 miles per hour. They travel for long distances but never nest further than 100 miles from where they were born.
5. Lifetime Mates
Bald eagles choose a lifetime mate at about five-years-old and only search for another if their mate dies. Courtship involves spectacular aerial flight and the male and female often lock talons together. Once a mate is found, mating takes place in coastal areas and the female will lay one to three eggs in the early winter months. It takes a little over one month for the chicks to hatch. They can fly at three-months-old.
6. Ideal Habitat
Bald Eagles live throughout the United States, Mexico and Canada but prefer forests near the shore and areas with little human habitation. Bald Eagles build nests in forests, using the canopy of leaves in the upper part of trees for cover. They also roost on cliffs or on the ground in dense growth for protection from the weather.
In captivity, the lifespan of a Bald Eagle is up to 48 years. In the wild, bald eagles usually live about 30 years.
Some of the major threats to the Bald Eagle population are the loss of habitat, human interference, contaminants, such as insecticides and poisons, lack of food and illegal hunting. One incident of poisoning took place in Utah in 1992 when ranchers put out poisoned bait.
9. Protection Measures
The United States and Canada began protecting Bald Eagles using the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty, which made it illegal to hunt or capture the eagle. In 1940, the Bald Eagle Protection Act was passed in the United States, which prohibited trapping and hunting Bald Eagles and Golden Eagles. The pesticide, DDT was also banned in the US in 1972, which also helped the Bald Eagle’s survival.
10. Culture and the Eagle
The Bald Eagle is not only the National Bird of the United States but played an important role in Native American culture. Often considered a sacred bird, the Bald Eagle’s feathers were used in spiritual ceremonies and customs of the Native Americans. Eagle talons were used in traditional Native American ceremonies and worn in headdresses. The Lakota tribe gave Bald Eagle feathers as gifts to someone who achieved an important task or as a symbol of honor. The Choctaw tribe viewed the Bald Eagle as a symbol of peace.