Bald Eagles



The Bald Eagle dwarfs most other raptors, including the Turkey Vulture and Red-tailed Hawk. It has a heavy body, large head, and long, hooked bill. In flight, a Bald Eagle holds its broad wings flat like a board.


Bald Eagles typically nest in forested areas adjacent to large bodies of water, staying away from heavily developed areas when possible. Bald Eagles are tolerant of human activity when feeding, and may congregate around fish processing plants, dumps, and below dams where fish concentrate. For perching, Bald Eagles prefer tall, mature coniferous or deciduous trees that afford a wide view of the surroundings. In winter, Bald Eagles can also be seen in dry, open uplands if there is access to open water for fishing.


Fish of many kinds constitute the centerpiece of the Bald Eagle diet (common examples include salmon, herring, shad, and catfish), but these birds eat a wide variety of foods depending on what’s available. They eat birds, reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates such as crabs, and mammals including rabbits and muskrats. They take their prey live, fresh, or as carrion. Bald Eagles sometimes gorge, ingesting a large amount of food and digesting it over several days. They can also survive fasting for many days, even weeks.


Bald Eagles build some of the largest of all bird nests—typically 5 to 6 feet in diameter and 2 to 4 feet tall, and ranging in shape from cylindrical to conical to flat, depending on the supporting tree. Both sexes bring materials to the nest, but the female does most of the placement. They weave together sticks and fill in the cracks with softer material such as grass, moss, or cornstalks. The inside of the nest is lined first with lichen or other fine woody material, then with downy feathers and sometimes sprigs of greenery. Ground nests are built of whatever’s available, such as kelp and driftwood near coastal shorelines. Nests can take up to three months to build, and may be reused (and added to) year after year.


Clutch Size: 1-3 eggs
Number of Broods: 1 brood
Egg Length: 2.3-3.3 in (5.8-8.4 cm)
Egg Width: 1.9-2.5 in (4.7-6.3 cm)
Incubation Period: 34-36 days
Nestling Period: 56-98 days
Egg Description: Dull white, usually without markings.
Condition at Hatching: Covered with light-gray down; eyes brow

Bald eagles are large birds with characteristically yellow eyes, yellow bill, white heads and tails, and dark brown bodies. Females are slightly larger than males. Bald eagles go through four distinct maturation stages. At hatching they have dark eyes with pink legs and skin, and flesh colored talons with the skin darkening to a bluish hue and legs becoming yellow. Throughout year one the eyes and beaks are dark brown with underwing coverts white. During their second year the eyes lighten and the body remains mottled. In the third year the bill and eyes begin to turn yellow and the head feathers begin to lighten. The fourth year the bald eagles begin to take on the appearance of an adult bird with their body becoming mostly dark and the head and tail mostly white. In the fifth year the eagles have reached their adult coloration.