Lee Richardson Zoo

Bald Eagle

Order: Falconiformes - vultures, hawks, eagles, kites, falcons

Family:  Accipitridae - kites, eagles, hawks

Scientific name: Haliaeetus leucocephalus alascensis


Description:  This bird of prey has a brownish black body and white head and tail.  The bald eagle isn't really bald; he is “balde”--an old English word for white headed.  Its bill, iris, legs and feet are yellow.  The legs are feathered halfway down.  Young have a dusky head and tail, dark bill, gray or brownish body with white in the wing linings and on the breast.  Adult plumage appears in the 4th or 5th year.  The adult body measures 30” to 43” long, wingspan 6½ to 8 feet and weight 8 to14 pounds and, as with most raptors, the females are larger.  The Bald eagle’s eyesight is 4-8 times sharper than humans and its eyes have sub-orbital ridges for protection while catching and handling prey.
Range:  North America.                            
Habitat:  Coastal bays, lakes, rivers and open areas.


Reproductive habits:  The Bald eagle mates for life but will replace a dead mate.  Breeding occurs at 3 to 5 years of age.  This takes place in the spring and they use a nest built of sticks, twigs and an assortment of other materials. Nests are built on tops of high trees near water or a cliff, and can range from 5-8½ feet in diameter.  Some eagles use their nests year after year, mending the damage and adding to the nest each year.  Nests that are renovated every year increase in size until the branch breaks off or the whole tree falls.  Nests have been found weighing over a ton.  Usually two white eggs are laid and incubated for 35 to 40 days.  Chicks have dark gray down. They must be fed by the parents until about seven weeks of age and will stay with the parents until about one year of age.


Diet in WildThese are diurnal carnivores.  Fond of carrion, they also eat fish and waterfowl.   Fish are their primary food source.  They have also been known to steal prey from other birds of prey.


Diet in ZooBird of prey diet (raw meat) and an occasional rabbit.


General Info: The Bald Eagle was officially declared the National Emblem of the United States by the Second Continental Congress in 1782. It was selected by the U.S.A.'s founding fathers because it is a species unique to North America.  The eagle’s voice is a thin chittering note that seems too weak for such a magnificent bird.  Like most raptors, they occupy the same territory year after year, sometimes migrating southwards for winter.  They are excellent hunters and fisherman.  Consumption of fish and wildlife contaminated by DDT, the encroachment of civilization, and poaching by man diminished eagle populations drastically, except in the rainforest coasts of Alaska and northern and central British Columbia.  The bald eagle was once classified as “endangered” but the population is recovering and is now only considered “Low Risk” by ICUN Red List.  It is listed on CITES appendix ll.  Federal laws protect all birds of prey, and it is a federal offense to have in anyone’s possession any portion of any bird, dead or alive, any egg or piece of eggs, any feathers, nests, etc.  Dead eagles (wild or captive) and molted feathers are sent to the National Eagle Repository so that their parts can be equally distributed to Native Americans for religious and traditional uses.


Predators:  Man



Handbook of the Birds of the World, Vol 2. J. del Hoyo; A. Elliot; J. Sargatal.  Lynx Edicions. Barcelona. 1992. p.122-23.

The American Eagle Association website