When one hears the word majestic, a bald eagle is one animal that comes to mind. Its mere size is to be respected along with its grace in flight and formidable weapons of beak and talons. The bald eagle is easy to recognize when it is a mature animal with its white head and tail feathers. An eagle becomes mature at 4-5 years of age. The name ‘bald’ eagle gets its name as the white head is thought of as ‘bald’, but as you can see, it truly has a full head of feathers. The bald eagle size, as an adult, is quite massive. While they are only about 3 feet tall, their wingspan reaches a span of over 7 feet! They weigh between 8-12 pounds. These are favorite bald eagle facts for kids!
Its Latin name haliaeetus leucocephalus gives us a clue that it is ‘water’ bird also. Hali = sea, eetus = eagle, leuco = white and cephalus = head. Prior to them reaching maturity, they do not have their full white head and white tail so some immature bald eagles may be mistaken for a golden eagle. A golden eagle is smaller than the bald eagle and has an orange-yellow nape giving it the name of ‘golden’. Its head is a brown color with tail feathers having a dark terminal band. As you will see from my previous blog post, bald eagles are around my cabin at the lake and I am fascinated by them. There are many interesting facts about bald eagles that I want to share with you.
Where Do Bald Eagles Live?
This raptor is found in North America including Alaska and Canada. It also can be found in northern Mexico during the winter. Eagles will migrate if their food source is not available year round. As their name suggests, they do depend on larger bodies of water for food so do live by them. Typically lakes will be more than larger than 4 square miles but my cabin by the lake is not nearly that large. So perhaps, many smaller lakes count also.
The bald eagle habitat needs to have mature hardwood trees which they build their nests in. Their nests are a platform style nest which work well for these large birds of prey that need quite a large ‘landing zone’. Their sheer size also requires a massive nest for them to sit comfortably in. A bald eagle nest makes the largest nest known. It can be as large as 15 feet deep as well as 8 feet wide. Think of the deep end of a swimming pool – that is typically about 10 feet deep! Typically, a pair of bald eagles will use the same nest year after year and each year they will repair any holes and add to it. A nest of 5 years is about average. Some nests are over 20 years old. These can weigh well over a metric ton!
The nests are usually built at least 66 feet up in the trees. If the nest is built in a tree standing in water, it has been reported to be as low as just 20 feet above ground. Nesting in a secluded area close to water is their preferred place but one family of eagles was reported to have moved to Harlem NYC in 2010 so always look up! The live ‘eagle cam’ in Florida has cars zooming by pretty close.
What Do Bald Eagles Eat?
Eagles like fish! They will swoop down low over the water after they see a fish near the surface and with their powerful talons, they will grab hold of the fish. If the fish is smaller, they will eat it whole. It if is larger, they will fly to a perch and rip it apart and eat the fleshy parts. They can store around 2 pounds of fish in their crop (an out-pouching of their esophagus) for digestion at a later time. Their lift weight is about 4 pounds so if the fish is larger, it will be dropped. Once in awhile, if there is a very hungry or stubborn eagle, it will not drop the larger prey and it will be drug under the water and drown or fall ‘prey’ to hypothermia (low body temperature) and will succumb to that. Other fun facts in the list of bald eagle facts for kids are how fast they can fly. A bald eagle can fly with a gliding speed of 35 -45 mph unless they are carrying fish, then it slows down to about 30 mph. Once they see their prey and take aim, their diving speed is an amazing 75 – 90 mph!
Bald eagles are scavengers so will feast on road kill of any sort. They are meat eaters. If they have a baby bald eagle (eaglet) back at the nest, they will rip off a part of the carcass and take it back to tenderly feed it to the baby. They will also take advantage of stunned, dazed or even dead fish that get caught in water turbines so they will ‘hang out’ in these areas. They do expend quite a bit of energy in catching fish as one reference indicated it took an average of 18 attempts to successfully catch one fish. They will also feast on small animals like reptiles or rabbits and even smaller birds like loons or grebes. There was a reported case of a bald eagle seen trying to carry a 15 pound mule deer fawn. As eagles do mate for life, this arrangement also aids them in hunting. It has been seen that one eagle will keep the prey distracted while the other eagle will attack from behind.
What Does an Eagle Family Look Like?
As bald eagles typically mate for life, the same pair will raise several families together. However, if one of the eagles are killed or if they fail to produce offspring – then they will find another mate. These birds are one of the earliest nest builders starting in February. In states as far north as Minnesota, with snow on the ground, they will breed in February and start laying their eggs late February to mid March.
Usually they will lay two eggs that will then hatch mid April to early May. The female eagle will lay one egg and then it could be days until the 2nd egg is laid and then days later if there is a 3rd egg. According to a ‘livecam’ eagle site in Iowa, they are expecting their first egg of this year the end of February! A baby bald eagle is called an eaglet. After breaking free from its shell by using its ‘egg tooth’ on top of its beak, it will remain in the nest for many more weeks.
At 3 weeks, it can hold up its head. Its feet and beak are almost as big as its parent. At 6 weeks, it is almost the same size as the parent but it will be another 4-5 weeks before it can fly! A parent will slowly decrease the time it is in the nest with the little one including decreasing the food to it to encourage it to leave the nest. An eaglet has the fastest growth rate of any north American bird at 6 ounces a day or a pound every 4-5 days. An older sister will eat the younger sibling if so inclined as the parent doesn’t do anything to stop the death! Sometimes facts about bald eagles are not pleasant.
Eagles are truly fascinating and awesome creatures to watch. There are several live ‘bald eagle-cams’ that you can sign on and watch! The one in Florida, hyperlinked here, has eaglets that have hatched already as they lay their eggs in November in the southern states.
To have looked up from my living room chair and see the dark mass in the front yard overlooking our lakeshore was a thrill. The year before, walking in the woods by a lake, scouting for deer, a regal eagle sat perched in a tree intently watching something on the lake. These happenstance finds are truly treasures enjoyed…by a cabin by the lake!