Deer in Spring Landscape

Bald Eagle
Haliaeetus leucocephalus

Adult Bald Eagle by USFWSDescription & Range:

Bald Eagles are impressive birds that are nearly 3 feet tall and have a wingspan over 6 feet! Bald Eagles can weigh between 8-15 pounds. Adult Bald Eagles have yellow talons (feet) and bill while immature eagles have dark bills and feet. Juveniles can be mistaken for large hawks or vultures. Bald Eagles also have dark brown bodies. At 5 years of age, the Bald Eagles' tail and head feathers are white. Females are slightly larger than males.

Bald Eagles are found in Maryland all year round. Most are concentrated along the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. Bald Eagles can also be found throughout most of the US and Canada.

Habitat:

Bald Eagles often live near water sources such as near lakes, reservoirs, rivers, marshes and coasts. Bald Eagles nest in large trees, either pines or hardwoods, usually at the edge of a wooded area. Many nests border active farm fields or shoreline. Since eagles have such a large wingspan, they cannot fly through woods easily, so they build nests where there is easy access. Nests are built from sticks in the upper crotch of trees. The nests can be 4 to 5 feet wide and more than 3 feet deep.

Diet:

Fish make up a major portion of Bald Eagle diets. However, Bald Eagles are also opportunistic feeders and will dine on other birds, small mammals, reptiles and amphibians if available. Bald Eagles will eat both live animals as well as carrion. Sometimes, Bald Eagles will steal food acquired by other birds.

Reproduction:

Bald Eagle chicks, photo by Dave Menke, USFWSIn Maryland, Bald Eagles start courting in December. By March, they lay their clutch of one to three eggs and begin incubating immediately. Since this is usually the coldest time of the year, nesting eagles should never be disturbed as they safeguard their eggs against adverse weather. Some eagle roosts in the area have 100-200 eagles using them. Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge on Maryland's Eastern Shore is one such place; Aberdeen Proving Ground at the head of the Chesapeake Bay is another area where eagles frequently feed along the Susquehanna River below Conowingo Dam.

After hatching in April, young eagles remain in the nest for about 12 weeks. Both parents help care for the young. The juvenile eagles start to fly in June, and by August have learned to hunt and fish on their own. Once they leave the nest, immature Bald Eagles maintain a nomadic lifestyle until they become fully mature at about 5 years of age.

Sounds:

Bald Eagles, surprisingly, make a series of high-pitched whistling or piping notes.

Behavior: Immature Bald Eagle, photo by Karen Bollington, USFWS

Bald Eagles have powerful wings and can often be seen flying or gliding long distances. Bald Eagles are also capable of swimming but do so infrequently. When courting, eagles perform a courtship dance that entails both the male and female locking talons and cartwheeling towards the ground. The pair breaks their talon lock just in time to avoid crashing into the ground. Bald Eagles often harass other birds, and sometimes mammals, to steal their food.

Conservation:

Bald Eagles were once labeled as Endangered in Maryland and throughout much of its range. The drop in Bald Eagle numbers throughout its range was attributed to the use of the pesticide DDT which made eagle eggs thin and easily breakable. A ban on the use of DDT has since allowed the birds to make a tremendous comeback. In August 2007, the Bald Eagle was removed from the Federal Endangered Species list, and in April 2010, it was removed from Maryland’s list of threatened and endangered species.

For more information on the status of the Bald Eagle in Maryland as well as information on nesting surveys, please click here. For more information on Bald Eagles, in general, as well as links to their calls, then check out the Cornell Lab of Ornithology page on Bald Eagles.