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Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)



Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
Order: Falconiformes, Family: Accipitridae

The bald eagle is the U.S. national bird; it is the only eagle unique to North America. Spanish name: Aguila Cabeza Blanca, Aguila French name: Pygargue à Tête Blanche Other names: American eagle, white-headed eagle, white-headed sea-eagle Adult bald eagles have brown plumage with a white head and tail. Immature eagles are irregularly mottled with white until the fourth year. Their legs are feathered halfway down the tarsus, and their beak, feet and eyes are bright yellow. Bald eagles have massive tarsi, short and powerful grasping toes, and long talons. The talon of the hind toe is highly developed in both species. Eagles use this talon to pierce vital areas while holding prey immobile with their front toes. A bald eagle's wingspan can reach 7 and a half feet.



I. DESCRIPTION:
  • The bald eagle is the U.S. national bird; it is the only eagle unique to North America.
  • Adult bald eagles have brown plumage with a white head and tail. Immature eagles are irregularly mottled with white until the fourth year. Their legs are feathered halfway down the tarsus, and their beak, feet and eyes are bright yellow.
  • Bald eagles have massive tarsi, short and powerful grasping toes, and long talons. The talon of the hind toe is highly developed in both species. Eagles use this talon to pierce vital areas while holding prey immobile with their front toes.
  • A bald eagle's wingspan can reach 7 and a half feet.
II. GEOGRAPHICAL RANGE AND HABITAT:
  • The bald eagle is native to North America. It was originally bred from central Alaska and northern Canada, south to Baja California, central Arizona and the Gulf of Mexico.
  • Bald eagles live anywhere with adequate nesting trees, roosts and feeding grounds. Open water, such as a lake or an ocean, is also a necessity.
III. DIET:
  • Primarily fish eaters, bald eagles prefer salmon but will also take avian prey. Waterfowl are an important secondary food source, and eagles also eat small mammals, such as rabbits, muskrats and carrion. They occasionally eat turtles as well.
  • Bald eagles seek prey from a perch or from high in the sky, swooping down to snatch it up in their talons. Bald eagles also steal food at times, often from other birds.
IV. LIFE CYCLE/SOCIAL STRUCTURE:
  • Bald eagles have been known to copulate out of season. Such behavior may account for the strong loyalty between mates. However, no sound evidence exists to support the theory that eagles mate for life.
  • Mates add on to their nest each breeding year, building it primarily with sticks. Bald eagle nests can eventually weigh up to 2 tons and are some of the largest nests in the world.
  • Females lay their eggs (usually one to three) a few days apart, and incubation starts with the first egg and lasts five to six weeks. One to two days is the normal age difference between eaglets, and older hatchlings often dominate the younger ones for food because of their size. In a three-egg brood, the third chick has little chance of survival. Thus, sibling competition greatly hampers the recovery of the species.
  • The male and female share nest duties equally; both will hunt and offer food to the eaglets.
V. SPECIAL NOTES/ADAPTATIONS:
  • Bald eagles are not completely migratory; if their nesting site offers them access to open water, they will remain there year-round.
  • Eagles choose migratory routes that enable them to take advantage of updrafts, thermals and food sources, usually migrating during the day.
  • Eagles were upgraded from endangered to threatened in 1994.



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