With a wingspan of 6'6" to 8' and a height of 31-37 inches the Bald Eagle is one of the largest eagles in the world; it is also the only eagle specific to the North American continent (meaning it is found nowhere else but North America). Their nests, or eyries, can be 6 feet high, 10 feet in diameter and weigh over a ton. They can live for over 40 years in the wild and up to 50 years in captivity.
Found over most of the North American continent, the Bald Eagle ranges from the northern treeline to northern Mexico, and all throughout the United States. They are most abundant in Alaska and Canada and usually avoid deserts.
A mature Bald Eagle has a white head, throat and tail; a dark brown body; and pale yellow eyes, darker yellow legs and beak. Immature Bald Eagles have dark bodies with white blotched wings and tails, dark heads and yellow eyes and beaks. Bald Eagle talons are black. The white head and tail feathers appear 4 to 5 years after their birth. Male Bald Eagles weigh 9 to 10 pounds with a wingspan averaging 6.5 feet; females can weigh up to 14 pounds and have wingspans of up to 8 feet.
Bald Eagles construct eyries on edges of bodies of water in treetops. Their nests become large from being continually built up and reused each year (refer to first paragraph). Bald Eagles lay 2-3 bluish white to white eggs at a time and both parents incubate the eggs for 35 days. Nestlings may take up to 3 years to mature. Only one clutch is laid each year.
Once the nestling hatches, it is fed and protected by both parents. In 3 months it starts to fly, and in another it is on its own. Many disturbances, such as man, disease, weather, or famine can kill the young. About half of the nestlings will survive the first year. The young may travel far from its nest in search of a nest of its own, but they usually stay within 100 miles of their birthplace.
A Bald Eagle catches its own food but also steals fish from smaller birds (Most Bald Eagles prefer catfish). They will also dine on carrion, birds, turtles, rabbits, pigs, fawns, squirrles, opposum, lambs, and goats.
Experts believe that the population of the Bald Eagle may have been anywhere from 25,000 to 75,000 in the lower 48 states when it was adopted as the United States' national symbol in 1782. Since then those numbers have dropped from lack of habitat, shooting, and poisoning of its food (a lot of the poisoning has come from DDT). In the early 1960's there were less than 450 nesting Bald Eagles left in the lower 48 states.
Bald Eagles are claimed by many farmers and ranchers to be a threat to livestock; many of these raptors have been shot by farmers, ranchers, and numerous others. In 1940 Congress passed the Bald Eagle Protection Act which made it illegal to kill, sell, or harass a Bald Eagle under any circumstance, with possession only legal with a permit. In 1967 the Bald Eagle was officialy declared endangered (this was before the Endangered Species act, which was passed in 1973). This covered all of the U.S. south of the 40th parallel. Many agencies since then have made attempts to inform the public about the threat to the Bald Eagle and help the eagle survive. With raptor centers and wildlife research stations breeding captive eagles, DDT being banned and the use of lead bird shot reduced, the population of the Bald Eagle has rose to nearly 4,500. Until 1995 the Bald Eagle was listed as "endangered" throughout most of the lower 48 states (Alaska has about 40,000 Bald Eagles while Hawaii has none). In July of 1995 the Bald Eagle was listed officially as "threatened" in all of the lower 48 states.