SPECIES PROFILE – BALD EAGLE

Mon, December 19, 2016 | Lakes and Parks

Scientific Name:               Haliaeetus leucocephalus

Common Name(s):         Bald Eagle

Identification:

The Bald Eagle is the iconic national bird of the United States, and is thus recognizable by most people in North America.  This eagle has a white head and tail, a dark brown body, and bright yellow beck and feet.  This bird ranges from 28-40 inches in length and 71-91 inches in wing span, while weighing in at 6.6-13.9 lbs.  Females are typically 25% larger than males, averaging 12 lbs, while males average 9lbs.  The call of the Bald Eagle can be described as a series of sharp chirping whistles.

Range:

The Bald Eagle is native to North America where it inhabits nearly all of the North American landmass.  The bald eagle is considered a breeding resident along the western coast of North America from Northern California to the Southern Alaskan coast, as well as the Great Lakes area and in parts of Central and Southern United States.  In most of Canada and Alaska it is considered a summer breeding visitor, while in the rest of North America it is considered a winter visitor.

Ecology:

Being a sea eagle, the Bald Eagle is mainly piscivorous, feeding on fish.  They have been found to variously rely on fish common to the area, including different species of salmon, shad, bass, and catfish.  The Bald Eagle can harvest relatively large fish. While most captured fish range from 10-15 inches, the largest captured fish has been observed to be up to 34 inches in length. Although mainly piscivorous, it is also an opportunistic carnivore and will consume a variety of prey items. Despite being a powerful predator, the Bald Eagle usually avoids prey that could offer resistance, with the average size of prey being less than 6.6 lbs, and also typically attains most of its food items as carrion, either found or stolen from other predators.

The Bald Eagle is a powerful bird capable of great feats of flight. Using wind currents and flapping, this bird can read speeds of 35-43mph, and while carrying a larger fish may still reach speeds of up to 30 mph. It also holds the record for heaviest load carried for a flying bird, and was of a Bald Eagle flying with a mule deer fawn, weighing 15 lbs. When hunting, these eagles may dive to achieve speeds of up to 100 mph.

Due to this eagle’s reliance on fish, it is mainly found in wetland type areas, including lakes, streams, swamps, and marshes. If breeding is to be done, this eagle also requires older growth forests with large trees to accommodate their nests.  Bald Eagles have the largest bird nests in North America, and the largest tree nests of any animal in the world.  Nests average up to 13 feet deep, 8.2 feet wide, and can weigh up to weighs about 2,200 lbs.  Bald Eagles are sensitive to human disturbance and typically inhabit areas with very little human activity.

Bald Eagles attain sexual maturity around four years of age and mate for life.  Mating rituals consist of complicated flight patterns and freefalls involving both birds.  Nest building and egg-laying occur around February.

Special Notes:

Although the bald eagle was removed from the federal list of endangered and threatened species in 2007, the symbol of the United States is still protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.   Only permanently disabled birds are allowed to be held in captivity, and only by educational institutions and Native American tribes with religious permits. The National Eagle Repository, a division of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, processes deceased eagles for preservation and for feather harvesting for use in Native American religious ceremonies.

Because of its propensity for prey theft and scavenging the Bald Eagle has historically had a negative reputation. Benjamin Franklin made note of the Bald Eagles behavior in a 1784 letter, stating:

For my own part. I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen the representative of our country. He is a bird of bad moral character. He does not get his living honestly … besides he is a rank coward: The little king bird not bigger than a sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the district.

In modern culture, the Bald Eagle is typically associated with the American idea of freedom and greatness, as well as the human ability to save a species from extinction.

Here in Bella Vista, Bald Eagles have been seen around Loch Lomond, Lake Avalon, and Lake Windsor and have likely visited all of our lakes and Little Sugar Creek. These birds can be observed easily in the fall, when there is less foliage, and also due to migratory activity from northern areas. At last count, in 2008, there were 146 Bald Eagle nests in Arkansas, and there has been an increasing trend for some time. Let’s hope they decide to nest right here in Bella Vista too!