Bald eagles generally live near water for better access to their favorite food—fish. They prefer spots with suitable nest trees and roosts to survey the surrounding territory. They are generally solitary, but live in pairs while breeding. During migration or in the winter, tens or hundreds will gather together where food is plentiful.
Bald eagles at the southern part of their range do not migrate, but those that live farther north, such as in the Canadian and Alaskan interior, tend to winter on the coasts. For the most part, eagles are sedentary creatures, able to sit on the same perch for hours. Juveniles, however, go through a period of exploration that lasts for four years. Some young birds will wander the whole width of the country, from Florida to Michigan!
Bald eagles prefer fish, but they will also eat other large birds, mammals, and carrion. They are excellent hunters, able to fish on the wing as they glide over the water’s surface. Additionally, they can wade in shallow streams and rivers. Eagles are also known to scavenge and to steal prey from other birds and mammals. This has given them a reputation as “lazy,” but in fact their abilities as food thieves make them competent survivors.
When bald eagles pair up, they put on spectacular air shows. They can cartwheel in the sky with their feet locked together, spiraling toward the ground. They make their nests in the canopy of tall trees, close to water so they can easily fly fish back to their young. They will return to the same nest year after year, continually enlarging and renovating it. Mothers typically rear one chick, but they can have up to three. At about 12 weeks, when the chicks are adult-size and their flight feathers have grown in, they are ready to learn to fly. Their head and tail feathers gradually change from brown to white over the first five years. By this time, they are ready to mate. Bald eagles can live for 20–40 years.
Some of My Neighbors
Turkey vultures, osprey, muskrats, sea lions, harbor seals, salmon
Population Status & Threats
Bald eagles were once numerous, but the species declined over time due to excessive hunting, a diminished food supply, pollution, and the introduction of the pesticide DDT. Today, a small but growing segment of the population winters on the lower Hudson River. With the banning of DDT and other chemicals, this majestic bird is making a comeback. Listed under the Endangered Species Act as threatened until 2007, it is now protected under a separate law created just for bald and golden eagles in the U.S.
WCS Conservation Efforts
The Wildlife Conservation Society's North America Program has helped eagles recover through its support for more than 30 U.S. parks and reserves. These include the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the Olympic National Park, both nesting grounds for bald eagles. Learn more about our conservation work in the U.S.
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