Bald Eagle

Tags: Boreal Forest

bald eagle

Eagles are one of the most majestic of all North American birds and it is easy to see why our forefathers chose the eagle as our national symbol. They are powerful, large efficient hunters.

What do bald eagles look like? Adult bald eagles have a noticeable white head and tail. Their other plumage is brown and their bill, feet, and eyes are yellow. They have a sharp, down turned bill and 2 inch long talons. Immature eagles have a brown speckled plumage with white specks under their wings for their first four to five years of age. Eagles have a small, chattery call that is not very impressive for such a magnificent bird.

Did you know that eagles are raptors? Raptors are birds of prey, or birds that catch and kill live animals.

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What do eagles eat? Bald eagles primarily eat fish but they will also eat carrion and injured birds. They have long, sharp talons that allow them to swoop down and pick up large fish. They are known to catch fish as large as 5 pounds. Bald eagles soar through the sky looking for food. When they detect something they can dive between 60-100 miles per hour through the air to their target! These birds have incredible vision that is about 8 times as strong as ours. Bald eagles are also known to steal fish from other birds called Osprey.

Where do bald eagles live? Bald eagles used to breed throughout North America. Now they only breed in Alaska, parts of Canada, Florida, and northern parts of the US. In the winter they are found along rivers south of the Canadian border.

Did you know that bald eagles are the second largest raptor in North America? These enormous birds can weigh as much as 14 pounds and have a wingspan as large as 8 feet across. The females are larger than the males. California condors are the only raptors larger than bald eagles in North America.

What do bald eagle nests look like? Their nests are huge and made of sticks. They build them high up in large trees and use them for several years. Each year the eagles add sticks to the nest and increase its size until it eventually weighs down the tree or drops off.

What problems do bald eagles face? Bald eagles have gone through hard times. Humans hunted them for many years and their numbers decreased significantly. They have also lost much of their habitat because of humans destroying the forests that they hunt and live in. Chemicals used in farming in the 1950s have also caused major damage to bald eagle populations. One chemical in particular known as DDT was used in the US on many crops. The DDT leaked into lakes and streams and was consumed by small animals and fish. The eagles ate the poisoned fish and retained the poison in their systems. When the bald eagles laid their eggs, the DDT caused the eggshells to be too thin and the mothers ended up breaking the shells during incubation. This toxic DDT not only affected bald eagle eggs, but other raptor eggs such as those of osprey and falcons. Fortunately, the US banned this harmful chemical about 30 years ago and eagle populations have increased ever since. This is good news because we need to work hard to protect this majestic, powerful raptor!

Sources Farrand, J.Jr. 1988. An Audobon Handbook: Eastern Birds. McGraw-Hill Book Company, New York. Stensaas, M. 1993. Canoe country wildlife: a field guide to the North Woods and Boundary Waters. Pfeifer- Hamilton, Duluth, MN. Udvardy, M.D.F. 1977. The Audobon Society field guide to North American birds: Western region. Alfred A. Knopf, New York.










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