Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) are the only species of fishing eagle found in North America.
Identification: Bald eagles can be identified by their long wings and relatively large heads. While flying, their wings are often flat, or slightly drooped. Juvenile bald eagles tend to be blackish with white wing pits. As they age, the black begins to turn to brown and the birds appear two-toned. Between their first and sixth years, the birds will continue to molt until they have their full white head and tail and chocolate brown bodies. Juvenile bald eagles and golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) may look similar, but there are a few ways to tell them apart in areas where their populations overlap (such as Denali National Park). Juvenile bald eagles lack the golden feathers at the back of the neck that golden eagles are named for. Golden eagles have feathers all the way down to their feet while juvenile bald eagles’ feathers only go about half way down their legs. Finally, juvenile bald eagles tend to have more white and brown speckled plumage while juvenile golden eagles only have white at the base of the tail and underwings.
Hunting & Diet: Bald eagles acquire their food in a variety of ways. Their preferred method is to steal their food from other eagles, ospreys, mergansers, gulls and even river and sea otters. Bald eagles are also well known scavengers and will eat the carcasses of fish, moose, deer, ducks, geese and other small mammals. If a bald eagle cannot acquire food by these methods, they will hunt either by soaring over waterways or by perching in a tree and looking for prey. Although food preference varies by region and season, their primary source of food is fish. In Southeast Alaska, 80-90% of a bald eagle’s diet is fish. One study suggests that bald eagles in Alaska become more active hunters in the winter and half of their diet between November and April consists of waterfowl.
Size: Bald eagle size can vary greatly by region. The largest individuals are in Alaska while the smallest are in Florida. They can stand between 27-35 inches tall and weigh between 4.5-14 pounds with a wingspan varying between 71-89 inches.
Habitat: Because they are a fishing eagle, bald eagles are found along rivers, lakes and, coasts. Any location near a body of water with good foraging habitat is desirable for a bald eagle.
Nesting & breeding: Nest construction/reconstruction and courtship displays usually begin sometime in late March or early April (depending on region it may be earlier). The famous cartwheeling courtship displays can be seen around this time, which usually indicate the couple reuniting after a winter away (or breeding for the first time).