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Bald Eagle

Haliaeetus leucocephalus

The bald eagle is a large raptor with a yellow, hook-shaped bill and a white head and tail. (Nav Tombros/Flickr)
The bald eagle is a large raptor with a yellow, hook-shaped bill and a white head and tail. (Nav Tombros/Flickr)

The bald eagle is a large raptor with a yellow, hook-shaped bill and a white head and tail. It lives in forested, sparsely developed areas near rivers, wetlands and other waterways throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed.


  • Dark brown body
  • White head and tail
  • Massive yellow, hook-shaped bill
  • Feathers only reach halfway down the legs, leaving the ankles “naked”
  • Yellow feet with long claws, called talons
  • Immature bald eagles (less than five years old) are mottled brownish all over, and lack the white head and tail of adults
  • Grows 30-40 inches long with a wingspan of up to 7 feet


  • Lives in forested areas near water, including rivers, wetlands and reservoirs
  • Prefers mature loblolly pine forests away from development


  • Found year-round throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed, particularly in sparsely developed areas near water
  • The Chesapeake region is also an important stop for bald eagles migrating from other parts of North America during spring and autumn


  • Eats mostly fish, but will also prey upon waterfowl and small mammals, especially in winter
  • Hunts by perching atop a tree to look for prey, then swooping down and grasping its prey in its talons
  • Often scavenges for food by stealing prey from other birds or eating carrion and garbage


  • Does not have any major predators


  • Holds its wings flat and straight while flying


  • Makes a sharp, cackling kleek-kik-ik-ik-ik or a lower kak-kak-kak.

Reproduction and Life Cycle:

  • Largest breeding populations in the Chesapeake region are located in Dorchester County, Maryland, and along the James, Potomac and Rappahannock rivers
  • Bald eagles raised in the Bay region usually stay here their entire lives, as long as they have access to water
  • Males and females go through an unusual courtship ritual. While flying, they lock their talons together and then tumble toward the ground, breaking apart just before they reach the water
  • Eagle pairs usually build and repair their nests in early winter. Nests are made of large sticks and located near the top of mature trees close to water. Bald eagle nests are some of the largest nests in the world, weighing up to 2 tons.
  • Females lay 1-3 eggs (usually two) in January-March. She incubates them for 5-6 weeks, and they usually hatch a day or two apart.
  • If a female lays three eggs and all three hatch, the youngest chick usually does not survive because it cannot compete with its older siblings for food
  • Chicks typically fledge at 10-12 weeks old, sometime between May and July. They still rely on their parents for several weeks after their first flight.
  • From approximately 1-4 years old, bald eagles are considered “immature” and have different coloring than adults
  • Immature eagles do not establish a breeding territory, instead moving throughout the region in search of food
  • Can live as long as 28 years in the wild

Other Facts:

  • The national emblem of the United States
  • Can be confused with ospreys and vultures. You can distinguish a bald eagle by its pure white head and tail, and its “naked” ankles.
  • Bald eagle populations have slowly recovered since the middle of the 20th century, when use of the pesticide DDT caused the species to decline. In 2007, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed the bald eagle from the federal list of threatened and endangered species.

Sources and Additional Information:

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