November 17, 2014

Animal Facts: Bald Eagle

Haliaeetus leucocephalus

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Falconiformes
Family: Accitridae
Genus: Haliaeetus
Species: H. leucocephalus

Fast Facts
Lifespan: typically up to 10 years in the wild (banding record 30 years 9 months)
Size: 6-7.5 foot wingspan; weight: 8-14 pounds; 30-37 inches tall
Eggs Laid: 1-3 eggs
Flight Speed: 35-40 mph
Status: Threatened in New Hampshire

What are tips for recognizing a Bald Eagle in the wild?
Adults are relatively easy to spot with white heads and tails, brownish to black bodies and bright yellow eyes, bill and feet. If you see a pair, the larger one is always the female! Immature Bald Eagles are well camouflaged with dark brown head, tail and body as well as white blotches on the underside of the wings. Young eagles don’t molt into adult plumage until four or five years of age. When soaring, Bald Eagles hold their wings level with their body (rather than the upward tilt of the Turkey Vulture). Their call is a squealing cackle, similar to a gull.

Where are Bald Eagles found?
Bald Eagles range only in North America, with the largest population in Alaska.

What do Bald Eagles eat?
Their prey is primarily fish, although Bald Eagles will feed on muskrats, squirrels, rabbits, waterfowl and carrion. Sometimes they will pursue and steal fish from Osprey.

What about nesting behavior and raising young?
Bald Eagles become sexually mature at four or five years of age and breed from March until May. Both male and female build the nest and add new nesting material to last year’s nest every spring. Nests are used perennially. Nests are usually built in treetops and can be seven to eight feet across, constructed of sticks with a lining of soft materials like grasses or moss. Two and sometimes 3 eggs are laid a few days apart in March to May, with an incubation period of about 35 days. If food supply is limited the chicks compete with each other and the strongest, usually the oldest, survive. In approximately 72 to 75 days the chicks fledge (take their first flight).

Fun Facts!
  • The name “bald” comes from the Middle English word, “balled,” meaning “shining white.”
  • The Eagle’s scientific name, Haliaeetus leuocephalus, means “sea eagle with white head.”
  • In 1787 the Bald Eagle was officially adopted as our national symbol.
  • In 1976 the Bald Eagle was put on the endangered species list, mainly due to problems with the pesticide, DDT which caused thin egg shells.
  • By 2007, recovery was successful enough to remove the Bald Eagle from the federal endangered and threatened species list. Still listed as threatened on the NH state endangered and threatened species list.

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