Bald Eagles


The bald eagle, with its distinctive white head and tail, is the national bird of the United States. It is the only eagle unique to North America. Visitors to the refuge enjoy seeing the majestic bird.

Bald eagles live throughout the continental United States. For many decades, bald eagles were hunted for sport and for the "protection" of fishing grounds. Also, eagles sit at the top of the food chain, making them more vulnerable to toxic chemicals in the environment. Pesticides like DDT  impacted eagles by weakening the bird's eggshells and severely limiting their ability to reproduce. Since DDT use was heavily restricted in 1972, eagle numbers have rebounded and have been aided by reintroduction programs. The bird is a wildlife success story: the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has upgraded the birds from endangered to threatened.

These powerful birds of prey use their talons to fish, but they are opportunistic feeders and get many of their meals by scavenging carrion or stealing the kills of other animals. Eagles are renowned for their excellent eyesight. 

On the National Elk Refuge, eagles can often be seen from the highway paralleling the refuge or on a sleigh ride. A lone cottonwood tree along Flat Creek, just past the sleigh ride bridge, often hosts at least one eagle if not more. The location provides a vantage point to look for both fish in the creek and carcasses of deceased animals. Sleigh drivers often refer to the cottonwood as the "eagle tree."

Several photographs of eagles are posted in the Birds of the National Elk Refuge photo collection in the National Elk Refuge's photo gallery.