FPL | Southern Bald Eagle Facts

Southern Bald Eagle Facts

Characteristics | Dietary needs | Partners for life | Nests | Young eaglets | A long northward flight | Population decline

Bald eagles are large, fierce and beautiful birds of the wilderness. They thrive in quiet isolation, using tall, mature trees for nesting and perching; and lakes, rivers or seacoasts for hunting fish and waterfowl.


Up to 3 feet in height, a bald eagle's wing span is almost 8 feet. Adults have a distinctive white head and tail, dark brown body and yellow eyes, beak and legs. By contrast, young eagles are uniformly brown and do not develop their characteristic plumage until they mature at about 5 years of age.

Dietary needs

Fish is the preferred diet of eagles, but they also eat small mammals, waterfowl, turtles and dead animals. In mid-flight, an eagle can expertly snatch a fish or a waterfowl from the water with its talons. To catch flying birds, which does not happen very often, eagles turn upside down in mid-air and grab the prey by the breast.

Partners for life

Eagles mate for life, yet if one dies, the survivor will often find another partner. Eagle courtship includes spectacular aerial displays in which the birds grasp each others' feet high in the air and plummet towards the earth, cartwheeling with their wings and legs outstretched. Young eagles also do this as play behavior.


Nests are built in strong, tall trees with a clear view of the surrounding area. Florida's eagles nest during the late fall and winter when food is plentiful. Eagle nests can be 20 feet thick and almost 10 feet across and are the largest of any bird in North America. A pair of eagles can occupy a nest site for decades, as long as one member of the pair survives to claim the site each season.

Young eaglets

One to four eggs are laid and then incubated for about 32 days. The eggs hatch several days apart so the first eaglet is larger than its nest mates and has an advantage if food is scarce. Eaglets weigh ¼ pound at hatching and within three months gain up to 12 pounds and sport 7,000 feathers. Young eagles are the fastest-growing birds in North America, and are soon crawling about the nest, squealing for food and playing tug of war with each other. At about 10 to 12 weeks of age, they are ready to leave the nest.

A long northward flight

By April, many of Florida's eagles begin to move north, following the Atlantic coastline as far as Canada. The length and speed of these migrations is truly amazing. Florida eagles travel as far away as Manitoba, Canada, a distance of 2,500 miles. Some Florida eagles are year-round residents.

Population decline

When Europeans first came to North America, eagles were unwanted, considered vermin by farmers and ranchers who shot them for fear of livestock and poultry losses. By the 1940s, this merciless destruction prompted the passage of protective laws and public attitudes toward the bald eagles began to change. Today, even though bald eagles are protected by federal and state laws, they are threatened by

  • continuing habitat loss
  • human disturbance
  • collisions with vehicles (40% of eagle deaths documented are from impact with cars and trucks while the eagles are feeding on road kills) and
  • pesticides and other poisons in the environment.

We need to protect the eagle.