Do Eagles Mate For Life?

Eagles are fascinating birds. They are known for their size and their hunting skills and are often referred to as ‘king of the skies’, sitting at the top of the food chain.

Eagles are also known for their mating habits – the dramatic aerial displays and their commitment to their partners draws a lot of interest.

But do eagles actually mate for life? 

I have put together this interesting guide to the mating behaviors of eagles to answer that question and many more that you might have.

Keep reading to find out more. 

Photo by Imogen Warren

Do eagles mate for life? 

Eagles tend to choose the same mating partner for many years, and some will mate for life.

Certain types of eagle are more likely than others to return to the same mate over a long period of time, such as bald eagles. 

Do eagle pairs ‘cheat’ on each other? 

Whilst most paired eagles will only mate with their chosen bird, there are instances of infidelity. A paired eagle might mate with a different bird, ‘cheating’ on their mating partner. This happens with both male and female eagles.

A male eagle could end up raising chicks that aren’t his own. Scientists have been able to study the DNA of feathers found in eagle nests to confirm that this happens in the wild. 

Some instances of unmatched DNA are caused by ‘nest intrusions’. The male eagle might be out of the best to hunt for food when another male enters the nest and mates with the female.

This can often happen when the number of sexually mature females in a particular area is considerably lower than the number of sexually mature males.

Younger male eagles are more likely to take part in nest intrusions than older males and there are some instances of ‘triads’ forming, which include one male and two females. The three birds share a nest and both females will lay eggs. When the eggs hatch, the females take it in turns watching the eaglets so that two adults can hunt for food at the same time.

This means that there is more food coming into the nest. Whilst this behavior has been observed, it hasn’t been studied in detail so there are still a lot of unanswered questions. 

Photo by Jarkko Järvinen

Do paired eagles ever ‘break up’? 

Some paired eagles will part ways and find a new mating partner for the next season. This could be due to one of the mates not pulling their weight or fulfilling their responsibilities.

The Center For Conservation Of Biology conducted a study that found eagle ‘divorce’ rates to be around 15%. 

Do eagles mate with each other in the air? 

A lot of people think that bald eagles mate in the air as part of an aerial display, but this is not true.

Bald eagles do take part in various courtship displays, one of which involves locking talons and spinning through the air toward the ground before parting at the last moment (or hitting the floor if it doesn’t quite go to plan). 

Once the eagles have chosen their mate, their behavior tends to calm down. The male will begin to gather the sticks and other materials needed to build the nest. The male will pass the items to the female who takes charge of the construction.

Once the nest is constructed, the eagles will become more intimate with each other. They will spend time sitting beside each other, often with their wings touching. They will also preen each other, and communicate with various calls. 

When the female is ready to mate, she will bow to the male. He climbs onto her back and aligns the reproductive organs before transferring the sperm. This will happen a few times a day during mating season to ensure that they are successful in their attempt to have eaglets. 

Photo by Christoph Müller

Do paired eagles mate during their first season? 

Once the bald eagles have found their mate, they may decide to wait a few seasons before mating. Experts are not entirely sure why, but it is most likely to give them time to assess their mate and ensure that they are suitable. It also gives the pair time to get to know the habitat so they can find the most ideal place to build their nest. 

Bald eagles reach sexual maturity between 4 and 5 years old. If they wait a few mating seasons then they might not begin mating until they are around 6 to 8 years old.

In the wild, bald eagles tend to live for between 20 and 30 years, and there is no evidence to suggest that they stop mating in their final years. This means that a bald eagle female could lay between 20 and 78 eggs in her lifetime. 

Photo by Dan Pancamo

When do eagles mate?

Bald eagle mating season is from fall until spring. It is usually considered to start in October and end in May, but this can vary depending on the habitat and the climate. Females lay between 1 and 3 eggs in May or June. 

When are eaglets born?

Once the eggs are laid in May or June, they need to be incubated for around 36 days. Both parents help to incubate the eggs.

During this time, the eggs are vulnerable to predators such as raccoons or other birds like crows.

The parents have to guard the nest to protect the eggs. 

After the incubation period, the eggs will hatch. Both parents will contribute to looking after the eaglets and hunting for food.

This continues for 10 to 12 weeks. The eaglets are still very vulnerable during this time, and parents must be vigilant.

After 10 to 12 weeks the eaglets will leave the nest. It is a steep learning curve, and only 50% of hatched eaglets will survive their first year. 

Photo by Lori Oberhofner

Final Thoughts 

Eagles have fascinating mating habits, including their courtship displays and their tendency is to stick with one partner for many years. 


What do eagles do when their mate dies?

Simple, they look for another one. Preferably they will stay in their current territory and invite a new mate in.

Is it painful for eagles to lay eggs?

Researchers are still unclear about how painful it is for the female when laying her eggs. They do know, however, that the male is more attentive at this time and will bring her gifts of food.

How does a female eagle select her mate?

This is where the female exerts her power. She will choose her mate on his condition and flying ability. This is why the male will perform acrobatics to impress her. She will even set him catching challenges to make sure he is up to the mark.

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