Bald eagle

Haliaeetus leucocephalus

Bald eagles are native to North America. They range across Alaska and Canada, the contiguous 48 states, and into Mexico. They are a sea eagle, and prefer to live near seacoasts, rivers, large lakes and other large areas of open water with abundant fish. Old growth or mature stands of trees are preferred for nesting, perching and roosting. They are carnivores.

Individual eagles may look very different, but in general adults have a blackish-brown back and breast; white head, neck and tail; and yellow feet and beak. Juveniles are a mixture of brown and white with black beaks. They reach adult plumage at 6 years old.

Did you know?

  • Bald eagle nests can reach 9 feet in diameter and weigh up to 2 tons.
  • The bald eagle is the national symbol of the United States. The Great Seal of the United States shows a bald eagle grasping 13 arrows in one claw and an olive branch (a symbol of peace) with 13 leaves in the other.
  • Leuco means white in Greek; cephalus means head in Latin: white head.

Bald eagle behavior and facts

  • Bald eagles prey on fish such as salmon, and waterfowl. They're opportunistic and will prey on other available food such as reptiles, invertebrates and carrion; they have been seen eating from livestock carcasses and carrying off chickens.
  • Eagles usually select the oldest and tallest trees that offer good visibility, an open structure and that are near prey. In treeless areas, eagles nest in cliffs or on the ground.
  • They hunt fish—their primary prey—by swooping over the water and snatching it with their talons. They eat while holding it in one claw and tearing its flesh with the other. Their talons are so strong they have been seen flying with a 15-pound fawn.
  • They are reclusive. Eagles choose nesting sites more than .75 miles from low-density human disturbance and more than 1.2 miles from medium- to high-density human disturbance.
  • Where lakes and rivers freeze, eagles migrate to the coast or larger rivers that remain unfrozen. In warmer areas, eagles do not migrate.
  • Bald eagles typically hunt alone, but may congregate where food is plentiful.

From birth to death

  • Bald eagles are monogamous (mating with the same bird each year). If a mate dies, the other eagle will accept another mate.
  • Nests typically reach 5 feet in diameter. Eagles use the same nest for years, adding to it over time.
  • Eagles usually lay two eggs but may have between 1 and 3.
  • Incubation: 35 days
  • Fledging: 10 to 12 weeks
  • Maturity: 4 to 5 years
  • Lifespan: average 15 to 20 years in the wild, 30 or more years in captivity

Vital statistics

  • Females: 3 feet long, with a 79 to 90 inch wingspan
  • Males: 2 to 3 feet long, with a 77 to 90 inch wingspan
  • Maturity: 5 years
  • Weight: 10 to 14 pounds

Status

  • Although previously on the endangered list, bald eagles populations are recovering in the contiguous United States.
  • The eagle still faces challenges including poaching, habitat loss and injuries sustained from human encroachment, such as running into power lines.

Bald eagles, the Oregon Zoo and you

You can find Athena and Jack in the Eagle Canyon exhibit. See Sukkai and Chinook in the Wild Life Live! show.

Bald eagles have no predators. But they can be flushed from their perches, nests and foraging areas by humans disturbing them. They are most easily disturbed by pedestrian traffic (people walking around in the forest below them) and least disturbed by aircraft. If you know of an eagle nest, do not go near it when birds are on the nest, incubating their young. In Oregon, conservationists recommend not getting closer than 150 to 300 feet. This helps a nesting pair feel secure and continue to care for their young.

Athena

Athena, a female bald eagle, has lived at the zoo since 2003. She was hatched in the wild in Washington. She dislocated both wings and broke bones above her beak when she flew into power lines near Olympia, Wash. The injuries hindered her ability to fly so she could not survive in the wild...

Jack

Jack, a male bald eagle, was found on the Lummi Reservation in Bellingham, Washington with permanently damaged secondary feathers and only one eye. He leads an active lives despite limited flying abilities. Athena and Jack eat fish, rats, quail and other red meat...

Sukkai

Sukkai, a male bald eagle, came from the Audubon Society of Portland after being treated for a broken wing and collapsed right eye. He cannot fly well enough to survive in the wild...