The North American Bald Eagle

Here you'll find in-depth information on the North American bald eagle including where these eagles are located, their nests, food, habits, and their status today.

The American bald eagle, or Haliaeetus leucocephalus, is a majestic symbol of the United States of America. According to the website entitled "American Bald Eagle Information", written and published by Hope Rutledge, this species of eagle is found only in North America. It can be found from northern Mexico up through Canada and Alaska. It says there are approximately 50,000 bald eagles in the United States, and 80% of them are located in Alaska.

"American Bald Eagle Information" provides the following facts on the history and status of the American bald eagle. It says before people settled in America, there may have been as many as 500,000 bald eagles inhabiting the coastline of Maine. These birds lived along the shores of the Atlantic beginning at Labrador and down to the southern most tip of Florida. They also inhabited the shores of the Pacific from California all the way to Alaska. The bald eagle resided in forty-five of forty-eight contiguous states. Thousands of eagles built their nests along large rivers and lakes.

There are many contributing factors to the reduction in the number of American bald eagles. The eagle's natural habitats were destroyed by the influx of the human population. Since American bald eagles consume fish, small mammals, birds, and waterfowl, they were forced to compete for food with humans. By the end of the nineteenth century, the number of American bald eagles had been greatly reduced. Between 1917 and 1953, over 100,000 American bald eagles were killed in the state of Alaska. Fisherman killed the eagles because they thought the birds were threatening their livelihood.

In 1940 an act was passed that would protect this bird against harm and harassment. Although the Bald Eagle Act helped protect the American bald eagle to some extent, environmental contamination and pesticides were devastating. DDT in particular was routinely sprayed on crops. Not only were small animals poisoned, but when these animals were consumed by eagles, the eagles were poisoned as well. This poisoning often resulted in infertility and caused the eagle's eggs to be very thin-shelled and fragile. Their eggs often broke before the chicks fully developed.

In 1964 DDT was banned, and the American bald eagle was listed as an endangered species in many states. On the fourth of July in 1976, the American bald eagle was listed by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service as an endangered species nation wide. Thanks to the banning of DDT and conservation laws, the eagle's status was changed in 1994 to "threatened". The bald eagle is still considered threatened today.

According to the online article "The Bald Eagle: Nebraska's Winter Visitors", published by Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, there are two varieties of bald eagles within the species. They are the northern and southern varieties. It says the northern bald eagle breeds in the upper two-thirds of the north American continent. The southern species builds its nests near the estuaries of the Gulf and Atlantic coasts., central New Mexico and Arizona, and from northern California to the lower Mississippi Valley.

"The Bald Eagle: Nebraska's Winter Visitors" describes the northern bald eagle. It says male northern bald eagles are smaller than females. The male weighs between 8 and 10 1/2 pounds, and the female weighs from 10 to 14 pounds. American bald eagles are between 2 1/2 and 3 feet tall. Their wingspan reaches an amazing 6 1/2 to 7 1/2 feet. These birds have incredible eyesight. The same article says they can see eight times better than a human. In addition, American bald eagles have very sharp talons used for catching and holding food. They have strong hooked bills that skillfully tear apart prey.

American bald eagles primarily eat fish, according to "The Bald Eagle: Nebraska's Winter Visitors". It says however, they do not always kill their food. Bald eagles will often find and eat dead fish. During the winter months they also eat waterfowl. When food is hard to come by, bald eagles will hunt on shore for mammals, birds, and they also eat carrion. When necessary, they move south to find food. "American Bald Eagle Information" adds that a bald eagle is capable of lifting up to 4 pounds. They hunt primarily in their home territory which ranges between 1,700 and 10,000 acres.

According to "Bald Eagle Information", eagles become sexually mature between four and five years of age. Bald eagles will stay with the same mate for life, but they will pair up with another if their mate dies. The same article says mating in Alaska begins at the end of March and ends sometime during the first part of April. In the southern states, mating season begins around the later part of September and ends around the end of November. In the Mountain West and Great Plains, mating begins around the first of January and ends in the later part of March.

"American Bald Eagle Information" says not all bald eagles breed each year. It seems to be a choice made according to food availability, sites available for nesting, and the weather. A typical nesting area ranges between one and two miles in diameter. Pairs of eagles will defend their nesting territory and chase away intruders. These nests are often built in big trees, but may be on the ground or on the sides of cliffs. The same article says eagle nests vary greatly in size and shape. Bald eagles build nests averaging 5 feet across, and when the same nest is used each year it can become as large as nine feet across and weigh as much as two tons.

A bald eagle's egg is approximately the same size as a goose egg says "American Bald Eagle Information". American bald eagles lay between one and three cream-colored eggs. Although the male helps incubate the eggs, the female does most of the sitting. If all goes well, after about 35 days the young hatch.

"The Bald Eagle: Nebraska's Winter Visitors" says the American bald eagle can live about 30 years in the wild. Captive eagles have lived to be 50 years old. If it were not for the efforts of many dedicated, caring people, this magnificent bird may not have been around for future generations to admire. The American bald eagle still soars today with grace and distinction, proudly representing the United States of America.

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