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Birds - Northern Bald Eagle

Region: North America

Class: Aves

Order: Falconiformes

Family: Buteoninae

Genus: Haliaetus

Scientific Name: Haliaeetus leucocephalus

Description: The beak, cere and feet of the adults are yellow. Size: 60 to 70 cm Wingspan: 2.2 m

Distribution: Once common throughout North America. The last stronghold is the northwestern British Columbia/Alaska coastal areas. They also occur in the rest of the USA and Canada, but in greatly reduced numbers.

Habitat: Usually the vicinity of water; larger rivers, lakes, sea coasts and the adjacent countryside.

Food: About 60% of the diet is made up of fish. They feast on the salmon "die-off" following the annual spawning on the west coast. Will also take rodents and smaller mammals. In Canada, it is more of a scavenger.

Skin/Color/Coat: Head, neck and tail are white, rest of plumage, dark brown. The white of the adult plumage takes 4 to 6 years to appear and the "immature" birds are black in colour.

Vocalization: Eagles make a wide variety of high pitched squawks.

Reproduction and Development: It is believed that these birds "mate for life" and it is known that they return each year to the same nest site. Every year more building material is added to refurbish the nest and after several years, it may weigh hundreds of pounds. Almost invariably two white eggs are laid. The breeding season is spring and early summer in the northern subspecies and around October in the southern subspecies. Fledglings leave the nest at 10-13 weeks of age but remain near the nest to be cared for by the parents for the remainder of the summer. The eggs hatch within a few days of one another and the older nestling may feed at the expense of his younger sibling causing a relatively high mortality in young. Breeding occurs after maturity at 4-6 years.

Adaptations: An adept fisherman. Bald eagles may sit for hours on some dead bough or other vantage point over shallow water, waiting for fish to rise, then swoop to capture one from the surface, barely getting their feet wet. It frequently swoops into or at right angles to the sun in order that its shadow not frighten the fish and cause them to dive out of reach. The bald eagle will also attack diving birds and swoops at them until they are exhausted from diving which makes them easy prey. Fish or birds that are too heavy to lift are towed to shore over the water's surface. This bird has made the visual adaptation necessary to enable it to strike fish where they are rather than where they appear to be due to refraction created by water.

Threats: Vulnerable to pesticides in the environment that bioaccumulate in higher levels of the food chain.

Status: Common in its northwestern range. Recent studies indicate it has made a significant recovery in other parts of North America. It is a protected species and possession of a single feather by an American citizen is a criminal offence.

References: Godfrey, W. E. ,The Birds of Canada, The Queen’s Printer, Ottawa, 1966, Pp. 428. Grossman-Hamlett, Birds of Prey of the World 1964 USA