The Bald Eagle is one of the most iconic animals of the United States. Not only is it huge and imposing in stature, it is fascinating and beautiful and a fitting species to represent the USA. In this post we dig into how it lives and breeds and the sounds it makes.
Bald Eagle Facts
Adults are incredibly striking and unable to misidentify. The body is a very dark brown with brilliant white on the head and tail. The feet, eyes and bill are bright yellow.
Juveniles are a bit trickier. Their plumage is a mix of browns and creams and may be patterns or striations. Look for the huge bill to aid identification. When they are this coloring, the parents should also be close by.
Both sexes are the same size. To put some perspective on how big this bird is, at 2 meters, the wingspan is long as an average sized bed. Pick up a five kilogram dumbbell and you will get an idea of its weight.
- Length: 27.9-37.8 in (71-96 cm)
- Weight: 105.8-222.2 oz (3000-6300 g)
- Wingspan: 80.3 in (204 cm)
The Bald Eagle is found across continental America, into Canada, Alaska and Mexico. There is a specific population concentration in the Pacific Northwest and along the south coast of Alaska. This has to do with it being a very suitable environment and migratory birds breeding there.
The migratory patterns of the Bald Eagle are complicated and heavily dependent on the maturity of the bird. Juvenile birds leave their parents at between 4 – 6 months of age and then go on a voyage of discovery. They spend up to 5 years exploring and circling thousands of miles of territory.
Adults may move between a range when returning to breeding sites but once a site is chosen, they are likely to return to it year after year. They timing of their return to these sites is dependent initially on weather and then on food availability.
Bald Eagles tend to migrate alone but they have been known to join together on routes to form loose kettles. They are heavily dependent on thermals to assist their journey and conserve energy.
In the breeding period, the Bald Eagle will hunt close to the nest. This will be in large forests and close to some kind of water. It likes to be away from humans but may hunt in wilderness areas that are near to semi-urban areas.
During migration, the Bald Eagle may be seen more over urban areas but will usually follow major and traditional routes over rivers.
In the wintering grounds, Bald Eagles look for similar habitats – away from humans, large trees in forests and water sources to hunt from.
The Bald Eagle is a fish eagle but is also opportunistic and will take advantage of what the local area offers. It hunts over shallow water and will take live or dead fish. It is not beneath attacking birds that are better at catching fish like Osprey and herons and stealing their catch.
Other food that the Bald Eagle will take are:
- small waterbirds like the American Coot
- large waterbirds like herons
- carrion of larger mammals (usually eaten on site)
- medium sized mammals like rabbits and hares, ground squirrel
- food scavenged at garbage dumps
Bald Eagles do not mate for life and may stay together for the breeding season or for most of that year. They begin looking for partners on wintering grounds, on migration and/or within their breeding range.
It can take up to 3 months for the nest to be built and if you have ever seen one, you will know why! The location of the nest site is entirely dependent on the tree being able to support it. They are usually high up in the largest trees, the type of which is variable and can even be a manmade structure.
The female lays between 1 – 3 eggs and incubates them for around a month. Once hatched, the chicks are attended all the time for at least 2 weeks. By 5 weeks old, they are left alone for a proportion of the time, while the adults hunt. The nestlings will fledge from the nest from 8 weeks to 14.
What sounds does the Bald Eagle make?
Like most birds, the Bald Eagle has a range of verbal and non-verbal noises that it makes. Most are for communicating with their mate or chicks to express an alarm, courtship intent, castigation or reassurance. We are likely to only hear one call from the Bald Eagle and it seems to just indicate ‘hey, I’m here’. It is distinctive and if you hear it, you are likely to know that it is a Bald Eagle.
Some of the Bald Eagle’s calls are:
This is the most heard call by the Bald Eagle. It is high pitched and starts with 3-4 notes and then becomes faster paced.
Here are a couple more examples of this call.
Call close to the nest
These calls and returns are by birds at or close to the nest.
This is a call from a bird being mobbed by ravens.
Call in flight
This call is a bird in flight.
This is a non-verbal sound of the wings beating during flight.
There can be no more fitting bird to be our national icon. It is a majestic beast and wonderful to see soaring above us. While it doesn’t have a huge range of calls, they are suitably dramatic and piercing for a bird like this.
We hope you enjoyed our post about the Bald Eagle and the sounds it makes.
There are a couple of theories. Firstly that the word bald comes from an old English word meaning white headed. It is also thought that it is a shortened form of piebald which references the light and dark feathers of the eagle.
You can see by the range map that this eagle is widespread. It also moves around a lot when it is young and on migration. If you are in the countryside, keep an eye (and ear) out for it circling high above.
They are not generally aggressive except when their territory is invaded. There have been instances where they have attached humans but if you just leave them alone, they will have no reason to hurt you.