Yreka Fish and Wildlife Office
Pacific Southwest Region
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Local Species Information - Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)

 

Bald Eagle, (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). USFWS file photo.

Bald Eagle, (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). 

USFWS file photo.

General Information


Status:
Federally listed as Threatened for the Sonoran Desert Distinct Population Segment on May 1, 2008; Remaining populations in lower 48 states delisted on July 9, 2007.  
Date Delisted:
Delisted on July 9, 2007 (with exception of Sonoran Desert Population)
Critical Habitat:
Not designated
Recovery Plan:
Recovery Plans  
Status Review:
Status review initiated on May 20, 2008 for the Sonoran Desert Population
Post Delisting Monitoring Plan:
Draft post-delisting monitoring plan completed on July 9, 2007

Natural History

 

Background   

In 1782, the bald eagle was designated as the national emblem of the United States of America.  The bald eagle was chosen to fill this role because is it found only in North America. 

 

Over time, loss of habitat, shooting, and organo-chlorine pollutants (such as DDT) led to a decline in bald eagle populations.  Southern populations of bald eagles were listed as endangered on March 11, 1967, under the Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1966.  On July 12, 1976, populations of bald eagles in the lower 48 states were listed under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as modified in 1974.  Within the states of Washington, Oregon, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan, bald eagles were listed as threatened; bald eagles in the remaining lower 48 states were assigned a status of endangered.  Public awareness and banning of pesticides like DDT led to increasing numbers of bald eagles, which were re-listed in the lower 48 states as threatened in 1995 and eventually delisted in 2007. 

 

Each fall, bald eagles migrate to the Klamath Basin from as far away as the Northwest Territories in Canada.  The Klamath Basin supports one of the largest population of overwintering bald eagles in the lower 48 states.  This is due to the high numbers of waterfowl, an important food source, that use national and state wildlife refuges and agricultural fields in the Klamath Basin during winter months.  Bear Valley National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1978, to protect an important communal roost site for wintering bald eagles.  Bald eagles can be observed in large numbers in January and February as they fly from the roost to foraging areas including nearby fields and the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge.  For more information on viewing bald eagles as they fly out of the Bear Valley National Wildlife Refuge, click here.

 

 

Identifying Characteristics

 

Bald Eagle.  USFWS file photo.Bald Eagle.  USFWS file photo.

 

 

Markings:

 Adult bald eagles have a white head and tail, with a brown body and wings.  Juvenile   bald eagles are mostly brown in their first year and then gradually begin to take on a mottled brown and white appearance until they mature.  The distinctive yellow beak and white head and tail appears when bald eagles reach maturity at age 4 or 5.  Bald eagles measure 30–40 inches from head to tail, with a 7–8 foot wingspan, and weight of 8 to 14 pounds.  Those in the northern portion of the range are larger than those in the southern portion of the range; female bald eagles are larger than male bald eagles.


Variation in immature bald eagle markings.  Younger bald eagle are primarily brown and progress to a "dirty" appearance prior to reaching maturity. USFWS file photos. Variation in immature bald eagle markings.  Younger bald eagle are primarily brown and progress to a "dirty" appearance prior to reaching maturity. USFWS file photos. Variation in immature bald eagle markings.  Younger bald eagle are primarily brown and progress to a "dirty" appearance prior to reaching maturity. USFWS file photos.

Variation in immature bald eagle markings.  Younger bald eagles are primarily brown and

progress to a “dirty” appearance prior to reaching maturity.  USFWS file photos.


 Look-a-likes:  

Young bald eagles may be mistaken for adult and immature golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos). Golden eagles are of a similar size to bald eagles, but do not have the distinctive yellow beak or white head and tail of bald eagles. Adult and immature golden eagles have a golden hue to feathers on the back of the head and neck; immature golden eagles also have white markings on the tail and wings.


Golden feathers on back of head and neck.  USFWS file photo.
Immature golden eagle in flight.  USFWS file photo.
Golden feathers on back of head and neck. 
USFWS file photo.
 Immature golden eagle in flight.
USFWS file photo.

Vocalizations: 

 To hear what a bald eagle sounds like, click here.       

 

Geographic Range

Bald eagles occur across North America, including parts of Mexico and Canada.  To view a map of the range of bald eagles outside of the lower 48 states, click here.

 

Map of the range of the bald eagle in the lower United States.

Map of the range of the bald eagle in the lower United States. 

Image obtained from this link.

 

Habitat

Bald eagles are associated with habitats along the edges of rivers and lakes, though nest locations may occur some distance from open water.  Live and dead trees with large lateral limbs are important features for bald eagles.  These trees contain branches near their tops that are strong enough to support nests or perching bald eagles.  Bald eagles also use winter roosts as a place to gather and perch overnight.  Winter roosts are especially important for bald eagles that have migrated from colder climates by providing a place to find shelter at night and during poor weather.  Winter roosts are typically found in areas with larger trees that are sheltered from wind and are within a relatively close distance to foraging areas. 

 

Prey

Bald eagles are visual hunters, locating prey from perches or while soaring.  While bald eagles do eat fish, they will also eat waterfowl, small mammals, and dead animals.  In the Klamath Basin, bald eagles have been observed catching fish from rivers and lakes, waterfowl from National Wildlife Refuges and agriculture fields, Belding’s ground squirrels, and feeding on carcasses.

 

Reproduction

Bald eagles usually lay 1 to 3 eggs, and are incubated by both adults for approximately 35 days.  The eagle chicks will stay in the nest for about 12 weeks, but will stay at or near the nest while the adults teach them how to hunt and fish on their own.  Click here to view a bald eagle nest camera at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service National Conservation Training Center.

 

Bald eagle chicks in nest.  USFWS file photo.

Bald eagle chicks in a nest.  USFWS file photo.

 

Conservation Actions


Habitat Conservation Plan 

Bald eagles are a covered species for a number of Habitat Conservation Plans.  To view Habitat Conservation Plans for bald eagles, click here.

 

For more information on Habitat Conservation Plans, click here

 

Safe Harbor Agreement

Five Safe Harbor Agreements have been developed for bald eagles.  To view Safe Harbor Agreements for bald eagles, click here.

 

For more information on Safe Harbor Agreements, click here

 

Candidate Conservation Agreements

There are no Candidate Conservation Agreements for the bald eagle. 

 

For more information on Candidate Conservation Agreements, click here

 

Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances

There are no Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances for the bald eagle. 

 

For more information on Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances, click here.

 

Current Regulations and Guidelines


Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act

Migratory Bird Treaty Act

National Bald Eagle Management Guidelines  

 

Current Information


A list of literature pertaining to bald eagles, habitats, and prey is available here.  Additional literature citations will be added to this list as they become available.


Links for More Information


National USFWS Bald Eagle Species Profile

Federal Register Notices & Documents

National Bald Eagle Repository