Bald eagle

COMMON NAME: Bald eagle

SCIENTIFIC NAME: Haliaeetus leucocephalus

Wingspan 6.5-8 feet; length 31-37 inches. Adults have a dark brown body with a white head and tail, yellow eyes and beak. Immature eagles are all dark with some white mottled in the wings and tail. The eyes and beak are dark. As the birds mature around 4-5 years of age, they start getting the white head and tail, and the the eyes and beak start turning yellow.

Formerly distributed across North America, they are now limited to breeding in Alaska, Canada, the northern Great Lakes states, Florida, and the Pacific Northwest. In Minnesota they commonly breed on northern lakes and along the St. Croix and Mississippi Rivers. Bald eagles move south for the winter to open water areas that attract large numbers of waterfowl or fish. In Minnesota, this includes the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers and sometimes lakes in the southern part of the state.

Bald eagles nest on the edges of rivers, lakes, or seashores. In winter and during migration, they can be found where there is open water offering sufficient food and evening roost sites.

Bald eagles build large stick nests (sometimes weighing over a ton) that are usually about six feet in diameter and more than six feet tall. Nests are built near the top of the largest trees near a river or lake. The birds start nesting in Minnesota in March when the female lays from one to three eggs. The male and female share incubation duties. The young hatch after 35 days and grow very quickly being ready to leave the nest at between 10 and 12 weeks of age.

Bald eagles commonly feed on fish during late spring and summer, during their nesting season, when there is open water.  In addition they will hunt waterfowl and small mammals, such as rabbits and squirrels.  They will eat food caught on their own, found dead, or stolen from other birds such as ospreys.  In northern habitats their diet shifts in late fall and winter to largely scavenging on deer carcasses and gut piles as fish are largely unavailable under frozen lakes and rivers, and waterfowl have migrated to warmer climates.

One of our most common patients, we often receive bald eagles that have been shot, caught in leg hold traps, poisoned, or hit by moving vehicles. Eagles are very difficult birds to maintain in captivity due to their size, strength, and wild nature. We have been involved for many years in reintroduction programs being conducted throughout the Midwest. Other TRC programs include investigations into the effects of lead poisoning, the incidence of chemical contamination in nestling eagles, and the location and use of winter roost areas.

The bald eagle was removed from the endangered species list on July 9, 2007.

  • Bald Eagle Talons

    Bald eagles, like other raptors, have strong feet and sharp talons for catching and holding prey.

  • Bald Eagle Feathers

    As an immature or sub-adult bird, bald eagles do not have white tail feathers.

  • Bald Eagle Feathers

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