National Wildlife Refuge System

Bald Eagle


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Bald eagles were removed from the endangered species list in August 2007.
Credit: USFWS

Are you “eagle eyed?” You might have exceptional long distance vision by human standards, but unless you’re a super hero, you probably are not in the same league as eagles.

The phrase "eagle eye" describes the highly developed visual ability of bald eagles, which can spot a moving rabbit almost a mile away. An eagle, flying at 1,000 feet altitude, can spot prey across nearly three square miles.

Few wild birds in the United States elicit the strong emotional reactions of the bald eagle. The eagle’s physical size, power, majesty and perceived or actual rarity combined with its cultural symbolism make the average bald eagle sighting a special event.

Forty years ago, our national symbol was in danger of extinction throughout most of its range, because of habitat destruction and degradation, illegal shooting, and the contamination of its food source, largely as a consequence of the pesticide DDT.  Habitat protection afforded by the Endangered Species Act, the federal government’s ban on DDT, and conservation actions taken by the American public have helped bald eagles make a remarkable recovery.

Bald eagles were removed from the endangered species list in August 2007 because their populations had sufficiently recovered. In Virginia, for example, the population has increased from fewer than 50 pairs of nesting eagles in 1977 to more than 1,000 active nests in 2013. In fact, it’s getting rather difficult to keep track of all the eagles in some places!

Bald Eagle Data

  • Size and color – up to 37 inches tall (males are smaller), eight to 14 lbs. (females are larger) with a six to eight foot wingspan. Adults are dark brown with white head and tail. Juveniles between four and five years are mostly brown with mottled white coloration.
  • Range – North American species with a historic range from Alaska and Canada to northern Mexico
  • Diet–Primarily fish. Bald eagles will also feed on waterfowl, turtles, rabbits, snakes, and other small animals and carrion.
  • U.S. habitat - Bald eagles are raptors strongly associated with water. They prefer mature shoreline forests with scattered openings, but can also live in proximity to people and in urban areas. Their habitat includes estuaries, large lakes, reservoirs, rivers, and some seacoasts. In winter, the birds congregate near open water in tall trees for spotting prey and night roosts for sheltering.

See This Bird!

With a little planning you can visit places known for hosting nesting, migrating, wintering or resident eagles. Since fish is their principal prey, you will be heading to a river, lake, bay or coastline with at least some open water.

Click here for a list of national wildlife refuges known for hosting bald eagles. Visit individual refuge Web sites for more information, and consider calling ahead to plan the best time to see bald eagles.




Last updated: September 13, 2013