Comprehensive Guide to selected species of:
Birds of the Boreal Forest « back to Guide
Bald Eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus
Family: Hawks and Eagles, Accipitridae
Audio: Martyn Stewart, © Naturesound.org
An estimated 16% of the species' North American population breeds within the Boreal Forest.
Description 30-31" (76-79 cm). W. 6-7' 6" (1.8-2.3 m). A large blackish eagle with white head and tail and heavy yellow bill. Young birds lack the white head and tail, and resemble adult Golden Eagles, but are variably marked with white and have a black, more massive bill.
Endangered Status The Bald Eagle is on the U.S. Endangered Species List. It is classified as threatened in all of the continental United States except Alaska. Our national bird suffered a dramatic decline caused by ingestion of pesticides and of lead-contaminated waterfowl. The main culprit was DDT, which was sprayed on crops to control pest damage. It leached into rivers, lakes, and streams, where it entered the food chain, absorbed by plants and small animals that were consumed by fish. Eagles and other large birds of prey in turn ate the contaminated fish. The main effect of DDT poisoning on birds was that it interfered with eggshell production, and the resulting shells were not strong enough to sustain incubation. Populations of many bird species, including the Bald Eagle, Peregrine Falcon, and Brown Pelican, plummeted. DDT use was outlawed in the U.S. in 1972, and conservation efforts on behalf of the Bald Eagle, begun in 1940 when Congress passed the Bald Eagle Protection Act, finally began to have an effect. The majestic eagle is now making a steady comeback, and once again nests in areas where it was wiped out during the 1960s. However, it is still not as numerous as it was in colonial times, when it was a familiar sight along almost every coastline. Until 1995 the Bald Eagle was listed as threatened in Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, Washington, and Wisconsin, and as endangered elsewhere in the lower 48 states; in 1995 its status was changed to threatened throughout the lower 48.
Habitat Lakes, rivers, marshes, and seacoasts.
Nesting 2 or 3 white eggs in a massive nest of sticks in a tall tree or, less frequently, on top of a cliff.
Voice Squeaky cackling and thin squeals.
Range Breeds from Alaska east to Newfoundland and south locally to California, Great Lakes, and Virginia; also in Arizona, along Gulf Coast, and in Florida. Formerly more widespread. Winters along coasts and large rivers in much of United States.
Discussion Bald Eagles are fish eaters, like Ospreys; when they pursue their prey they rarely enter the water as an Osprey does, but instead snatch the fish from the surface with their talons. Where Ospreys are common, the eagles obtain much of their food by stealing it from the smaller "fish hawk."