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Eagle, Bald

Bald Eagle calling at the LA Zoo Photo Credit: Tad Motoyama

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.

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, which was used to control a number of insect species including mosquitoes. DDT eventually ended up in local waterways poisoning fish and plants as well as the bald eagles that ate the contaminated fish. This affected the birds’ ability to produce healthy eggs, making future reproduction nearly impossible. By the early 1960s, there were just over 400 mating pairs remaining in the contiguous United States (populations in Canada and Alaska were relatively unaffected), down from an estimated population of 100,000 living in the U.S. at the end of 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. 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.

The bald eagle is listed as of Least Concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

This species can be found across North America and is often seen living near rivers, lakes, and open bodies of water along the coast, ranging from Canada to northern Mexico.

A sea eagle, its meal is comprised mostly of fish, but they’re also known to hunt small mammals and birds. During winter, groups of bald eagles will gather at the spawning grounds of salmon in the Pacific Northwest, feeding on live, dead, or dying fish. Bald eagles also steal meals from smaller birds and animals as well as scavenge carrion.

Despite its name, this eagle is not actually bald. The term “bald” stems from an old definition of the word meaning “white-headed,” referring to the white coloring of this eagle’s head. The tail is also white, and the brightness of both the head and tail create stark contrast to the dark brown shades of the bird’s wings and body. 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.

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