Eagles and Raptors

Raptors, also known as birds of prey, are distinguished from other landbirds and birds that eat live food, by their method of catching and eating prey with their talons. Other birds may also catch and eat live food, but it is the raptor's specialized tools that give this designation. Raptors are only a small compliment of the great diversity of landbird species that Alaska supports. Because of the unique geographic position of Alaska, many of the state's landbirds and raptors are found very rarely or not at all in other parts of the United States or North America. Alaska supports the the entire U.S. breeding population of Gyrfalcon, Snowy and Northern Hawk owl. Additionally, Alaska hosts more than 75% of the breeding populations of bald eagles within the U.S.

Bald Eagle Natural History

Bald eagles are a North American species that occur in Alaska, Canada and the contiguous United States into the northern edge of Mexico. The largest North American breeding populations are in Alaska and Canada, but there are also significant bald eagle populations in the Great Lakes states, Florida, the Pacific Northwest, the Greater Yellowstone area, Maine, and the Chesapeake Bay region.

Adult bald eagles have a dark brown body and distinctive white head and tail.  In contrast, juvenile bald eagles have mottled brown and white plumage.  They gradually acquire the adult plumage as they mature, which takes about five years. Most bald eagles can breed at 4 or 5 years of age, but many do not start breeding until they are older.  Bald eagles in the wild can live to more than 30 years in exceptional circumstances, but average longevity is significantly less.

Bald eagles are opportunistic feeders with fish comprising much of their diet.  They also eat waterfowl, shorebirds, colonial waterbirds, small mammals, marine invertebrates, and carrion (often along roads or at landfills). Because they are visual hunters, eagles typically locate their prey from a conspicuous perch, or soaring flight, then swoop down and strike.

Injured, Sick, or Orphaned Raptors

If you find injured, sick, or orphaned raptors:

Leave them where you find them.  Raptors can inflict serious injuries if you don’t know how to handle them properly. As soon as you can, call the nearest wildlife rehabilitator or veterinarian for further instructions.  Wildlife rehabilitation organizations in Alaska include: (phone list and numbers updated 2/2017)

  • Anchorage:  Bird Treatment and Learning Center – 907-562-4852
  • MatSu Valley:  Alaska Wildbird Rehab Center – 907-892-2927
  • Homer:  Alaska Maritime NWR - 907-235-6546
  • Seward:  Alaska SeaLife Center – 1-888-774-7325
  • Soldotna:  Kenai NWR – 907-260-7021
  • Juneau:  Juneau Raptor Center – 907-568-8393
  • Sitka:  Alaska Raptor Center – 907-747-8662
  • Prudhoe Bay:  Alaska Clean Seas – 907-659-3207

Contact information for other wildlife rehabilitators and information on becoming a wildlife rehabilitator are available from the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association or from the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council.

You can report birds that appear ill to the Alaska Sick and Dead Bird hotline at 1-866-527-3358 (1-866-5-BRDFLU). Please note that it is illegal to collect live or dead eagles or their parts without a permit.

Two bald eagles perched along a nest
Half a century ago, the bald eagle was in danger of extinction. Conservationists helped lead a remarkable recovery, and in 2007 the bald eagle was removed from the federal list of threatened and endangered species. This article touches on why the bald eagle inspires the awe and respect that it does.