Southern Bald Eagle Facts
| Dietary needs | Partners
for life | Nests | Young
eaglets | A long northward flight |
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.
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.
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.
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.
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