Bald Eagle

2012 Eagle Pair Lafayette_Zoo_RTO9341
11.29.07 Crazy Horse foreground Chehalis in rear
Class: Aves 
Order: Falconiformes
Family: Accipitridae
Genus and Species: Haliaeetus leucocephalus 
 
Range: The bald Eagle is found across North America where there is suitable habitat. Their populations are most abundant in Alaska and Canada. Bald Eagles move south for the winter to water areas that attract large numbers of waterfowl or fish.

Habitat: Bald Eagles nest along rivers lakes or large streams. They nest in the highest trees.

Physical Characteristics: Adult Bald Eagles are dark brown with a  white head and tail. The beak and feet are a deep yellow. The eyes are a pale yellow. Juveniles are all dark with some white mottled in the wings and tails. The eyes and beak are dark. As the birds mature at approximately five years of age they start getting the white tail and head and the eyes and beak start turning yellow. Soaring Bald Eagles have a wingspan of 6 to 8 feet.

Longevity: Bald Eagles have been known to live over 40 years in the wild
and 50 years in captivity. 

Social Structure: Solitary except during breeding/nesting season. 
 
Active Time: Diurnal

Diet: Wild: Fish, small to medium sized mammals, birds, and some carrion.
Zoo: Fish, mice, chicken legs.

Behavior: Bald Eagles love fish and will even pirate them from other birds. On their own turf, they assert full authority unchallenged. Characteristically choosing the tallest trees available, they make no effort to hide their nests from view and instead rely on their imposing size and demeanor to intimidate intruders. Each fall there is a postbreeding gathering of thousands of individuals along the rivers in southeastern Alaska. Drawn by the spawning runs of chum salmon, they assemble to take advantage of a superabundant food supply. As the salmon die on their way up the rivers, the eagles wade into the shallows and take them as carrion rather than chasing after the live ones. With such an abundance of food, there is little need for intense aggression among the birds and they are able to eat in an unhurried fashion. 
 
The Nest: The Bald Eagle nest is called an eyrie. Nests are built near the tops of the largest and tallest trees near rivers or lakes. The nests are reused year after year and become quite large. Sometimes weighing as much as a ton. They are made out of sticks and the nest can become 6 feet in diameter and over 6 feet tall.

Reproduction: Breeding takes place once a year. They begin laying their eggs in early spring (April and May) and they usually lay 1 to 3 dull white to bluish-white eggs per clutch. Both parents share incubation duties. The young hatch after 35 days. Both male and female care for and feed the nestlings. Breeding occurs once a year.

Interesting Facts: 
• Man is the Bald Eagle’s only enemy. Bald Eagles have no natural predator, but fall victim to gunshot wounds, traps, and poison.
• Bald eagles strike their prey with twice the force of a rifle bullet.
• Baby eagles can increase their body weight 40 times in just 45 days.
• Ben Franklin did not the Bald Eagle as our national bird, stating that the eagle was a thief, a scavenger, and a scoundrel.
• They are famous for their ability to force Ospreys to give up fish in midair.

Conservation Status: The Bald Eagle was on the endangered species list until 1995, due to the widespread use of DDT. Insects, fish and small mammals absorbed the chemical as it washed into the water and food systems. Bald Eagles consumed the poisoned prey which resulted in weak shells, the inability to reproduce and death. Since the ban of DDT and efforts to rescue the Bald Eagle from extinction their populations have been growing. In 1995, the Bald Eagle was taken off the endangered species list and is now considered to be threatened.