Bald Eagle

Haliaeetus leucocephalus

bald_eagle_flying_11-20-13.jpg

Photo of bald eagle soaring
In flight, a mature bald eagle is identified by its dark brown body with white head and tail.
Noppadol Paothong
Species of Conservation Concern
Family

Accipitridae (hawks and eagles) in the order Falconiformes

Description

Mature bald eagles have a dark brown body with white head and tail. The large, hooked bill, strong talons, and irises of the eyes are yellow. Females are larger than males, but otherwise the sexes look alike. In flight, bald eagles soar on rising warm air currents on flattened wings (not holding them V-shaped). Juveniles are all brown, with white speckles. Voice is a series of chirps or a loud screaming whistle.

Size

Length: 36 inches (tip of bill to tip of tail); wingspan: 84 inches.

bald_eagle_perched_11-20-13.jpg

Photo of bald eagle perched on a branch
Bald Eagle Perched
A mature bald eagle is unmistakable with its dark brown body, yellow bill, and white head and tail.

bald_eagle_over_water_11-20-13.jpg

Photo of bald eagle skimming over water, feet stretched
Bald Eagle Skimming Over Water
Bald eagles are usually observed near lakes, rivers, and marshes as they forage for fish or carrion.

bald_eagle_immature_11-20-13.jpg

Photo of immature bald eagle perched on a branch
Bald Eagle (Immature)
Young bald eagles are nomadic and acquire adult plumage at about age 5.

bald_eagle_nest_11-20-13.jpg

Photo of two juvenile bald eagles in nest
Bald Eagle Nest
A bald eagle nest is large and can be 13 feet deep and 8 feet across.

bald_eagle_flapping_11-20-13.jpg

Photo of bald eagle flapping over water
Bald Eagle Flapping
The bald eagle’s return to the Lower 48 is a conservation success story.

fg-0002_eagle-bald_thumb_270x180.jpg

bald eagle face looking head on into the camera
Bald Eagle Portrait
Bald eagles have white heads, large forward-looking eyes and hooked yellow beaks.

bald_eagle_2019.jpg

A bald eagle flies over the Mississippi River
Bald Eagle Flying
A bald eagle takes flight early in the morning searching for fish along the Mississippi River in Clarksville, Mo.

Bald_eagle_41-12-2011.jpg

American Bald Eagle
American Bald Eagle
Eagle Days are popular events where people can get great views of our national symbol.

bald_eagle_11-18-2010-6.jpg

Photo of a bald eagle in flight
Bald Eagle
Bald eagles soar on wings held flat.This helps distinguish them from turkey vultures, which form a shallow V with their wings.

FG-0002_Eagle_Bald.mp4

Video of bald eagles in the wild.

Bald Eagle

bald eagle face looking head on into the camera
The bald eagle's high-pitched, shrieking whistle alarms prey-sized birds and animals.

Bald_Eagle_Eagle_Bluffs_CA

Photo of bald eagle flying at Eagle Bluffs CA
Bald Eagle at Eagle Bluffs CA
Eagle soaring high at Eagle Bluffs CA
Habitat and conservation

Bald eagles are usually seen near lakes, rivers, and marshes as they forage for fish or carrion. The bald eagle’s return to the Lower 48 is a conservation success story: Although historically about 20,000 pairs nested in the United States, by the 1950s only about 3,000 pairs were nesting. Today, over 10,000 pairs nest in the United States annually, including about 200 in our state, as of 2010.

Foods

Bald eagles prey on a variety of live animals and also eat carrion. Fish and carrion make up most of the diet, but reptiles, amphibians, small mammals, other birds, and large invertebrates such as crayfish are also eaten.

image of Bald Eagle Distribution Map
Distribution in Missouri

Bald eagles are usually observed statewide near lakes, rivers, and marshes, particularly during the winter.

Status

Uncommon migrant. Though bald eagles have made a dramatic comeback on our continent, their presence is still vulnerable within our state, and they remain a Species of Conservation Concern.

Life cycle

Bald eagles reach maturity at age 4 or 5 and usually breed near where they were born. They generally mate for life, but if one of the pair disappears or dies, the survivor finds another mate. Courtship includes special calls and flight displays. The nest is large and can be 13 feet deep and 8 feet across. A pair produces 1–3 eggs annually, but rarely do all three chicks reach maturity. Young bald eagles acquire adult plumage at about age 5. Bald eagles can live for more than 30 years.

Human connections

As a cherished U.S. national symbol, the bald eagle’s cultural value is hard to estimate.

In some Native American cultures, bald eagles are held sacred, and their feathers are important symbols.

Humans played a large role in the decline of eagles in the 1900s. These birds were shot, trapped, and poisoned, and they also declined as a result of pesticide-related nesting failures. But humans have also enabled their population comeback, enacting laws to ban the most troublesome pesticides and protecting them from persecution.

Bald eagles can suffer from lead poisoning when they consume carrion shot by hunters with lead shot.

They lose nesting, hunting, and roosting habitat because of shoreline development.

Ecosystem connections

As scavengers and top predators, bald eagles suffered from pesticides that accumulated in the bodies of the many insects, insect eaters, and other small predators beneath them in the food chain. They offer a classic example of how some molecules can concentrate in the bodies of animals at the top of food chains.