Bald Eagle

Common Name: Bald Eagle

Class:  Aves

Order: Falconiformes

Family: Accipitridae

Genus: Haliaeetus

Species: Haliaeetus leucocephalus

photo M. Noonan

 

Taxonomy/Description

 

The Bald Eagle is a member of the Accipitridae Family, one of two families under the Order Falconiformes, meaning that it is a diurnal bird of prey.  Its name is derived from “Haliaeetus,” meaning “sea eagle,” and “leucocephalus,” meaning “white head.”  The common name, “Bald Eagle” comes from the English word “piebald,” which usually refers to a black and white pattern referring to the Bald Eagle’s white head.


photo Ivan Andrijevic

Bald Eagles have a body length of around 27-40 in (68 to 100 cm).  Females are 25% larger, showing a clear example of sexual dimorphism.  The female wingspan is 7 ft (2.1 m), while the male wingspan is 6 ft 6 in (2 m).  The average weight of a female is 12.9 lbs (5.8 kg) and the male weighs 9 lbs (4.1 kg). In the wild Bald Eagles typically live 20 to 30 years, but they have been known to live up to 50 years.  Bald Eagles that live in captivity typically live up to 60 years.

photo M. Noonan

 

Habitat/Diet

 

Bald Eagles are usually found in habitats that provide plenty of warm-water fishes.  These areas include seacoasts, rivers, and large lakes. They seem to preferwater bodies with a circumference of at least 7 mi (11 km). 


photo Ivan Andrijevic

 

Their diet consists mostly of fish, but they also eat other birds such as grebes, ducks, geese and mammals such as rabbits, raccoons, muskrats, and even deer fawn.  Bald Eagles also rely on carrion and will often live off of carcasses throughout the winter.

 

Behavior/Reproduction

 

Bald Eagles display the same behaviors as other birds including preening and brooding.  They are not known to be aggressive birds, but when a confrontation occurs, it is usually fatal.  Bald Eagles will also steal prey from other birds of prey, such as Ospreys, who often share habitats with Bald Eagles.  Many believe that Bald Eagles mate for life, however, if one member dies, they will be replaced. 

For courtship, Bald Eagles display a “cartwheel” where they lock talons and freefall until right before hitting the ground.  Nests can be 8 feet across, weigh a ton, and usually are found in trees.  However, if no trees can be found, they have been known to nest on the ground.  Each year, the eagles lay one to three eggs and both the male and female take turns brooding.  Incubation lasts 35 days and the fledglings are cared for for 8 to 14 weeks.

photo M. Noonan

Although Bald Eagles were declared and Endangered Species in 1967, due to conservation and knowledge, their population has made a comeback and on June 28, 2007, the Department of Interior took the Bald Eagle off of the Endangered Species list.  They are still protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

 

Where to see them in WNY?

 


photo Ivan Andrijevic

 

The best place to find a Bald Eagle in Western New York would be in an area around a large lake or river.  A National Wildlife Refuge, such as Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge, provides an excellent habitat for the Bald Eagle.

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