Scientific Name: Haliaeetus leucocephalus
The bald eagle was named the national bird of the United States in 1782 and appears on numerous government images such as seals, bills, and coins.
During winter, groups of bald eagles will gather at the spawning grounds of salmon in the Pacific Northwest, feeding on life fish as well as dead or dying fish that are unable to mate and wash up on nearby shores.
STATUS: The bald eagle is listed as of Least Concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
HABITAT: This species prefers to live near the rivers, lakes, open bodies of water, and coasts of North America ranging from Canada down to northern Mexico.
DIET: As a sea eagle (distinguished by its genus name Haliaeetus which means sea eagle), the majority of the bald eagle’s meal is comprised of fish, typically spawning trout and salmon of the Pacific Northwest.
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS: Despite its seemingly hairless name, the bald eagle is not actually “bald.” The term “bald” stems from the old definition of the word meaning “white-headed,” referring to the white coloring of this eagle’s head. The tail, like the head, is a standout white compared to the even brown coloring of the bird’s wings and body. The beak of this bird is yellow and slightly curved at the tip. The bald eagle is a large bird of prey with a length of 28 to 40 inches, a wingspan between 66 and 96 inches, and a weight of 5.5 to 15 pounds. Females can be distinguished from males by their typically larger size.
A Nearly Lost Icon
During the 20th century, the bald eagle was near local extinction in the continental portion of the United States, and was consequently placed on the federal government’s list of endangered species. The primary cause attributed to their decline was the appearance of the pesticide DDT that would not directly affect the bird, but rather make the bird sterile or affect its laying of healthy eggs, making future reproduction nearly impossible. By the 1950’s, there were just over 400 mating pairs remaining in the contiguous United States (populations in Canada and Alaska were relatively unaffected), down from a population of 300,000 to 500,000 estimated to be living in the 18th century. In 1967, the bald eagle was listed as endangered in the United States and multiple amendments following its listing greatly restricted the capture and holding of these birds in captivity. After a widespread conservation effort, the native bald eagle population has recovered and stabilized, and the bird was delisted as an endangered species in June of 2007.