Bald Eagle

Common Name - Bald Eagle

Category - Birds

ScientificName - Haliaeetus leucocephalus

Kingdom - Animalia

Phylum - Chordata

Class - Aves

Order - Falconiformes

Family - Accipitridae

Genus - Haliaeetus

Species - leucocephalus


Description - Large bird of prey; dark brown body; white feathers on the head, neck, tail, wing tips; yellow eyes, bill, feet; females usually larger than males; first year juveniles brown with white spotted tail, belly, and underwing feathers; eyes and bill change from black to yellow with age; head and tail become white; full adult plumage reached at 4 – 5 years old

Size - 3 – 3.5 ft. (91 – 107 cm) long; 6 – 7.5 ft. (182 – 229 cm) wingspan

Ecological Role - The bald eagle is a bird of prey (raptor) and occupies a position at the top of the food chain. It feeds by swooping over open water or land and catching prey with its sharp curved talons. It also eats dead animals (carrion). Eagles are meat-eaters (carnivores) and hunt during the day (diurnal) usually from a high perch. Adults have few predators. Owls prey upon young bald eagles.

Fun Facts - The bald eagle is a United States symbol representing freedom, bravery, and power. Bald eagles can see three to four times farther than people. They can fly up to 35 miles per hour and reach even faster speeds when diving for prey. The bald eagle gets its name from the Old English word balde, which means white; also the white head against the dark body makes the eagle appear bald. The bald eagle lives 20 – 30 years in the wild.

Food - Fish, small mammals, snakes, other birds


Nest - Located in tree fork high off ground; may use cliffs if trees are not available; constructed of sticks and vegetation, lined with moss or grasses; 5 ft. (1.5 m) in diameter, 2 ft. (0.6 m) height, 20 in. (50.8 cm) inside diameter, 4 – 5 in. (10.2 – 12.7 cm) depth; nests may be used year after year, increasing size by adding material each year; male and female build nest; largest nest of any bird in North America and can weigh hundreds of pounds; nests as large as 9 ft (2.74 m) in diameter weighing two tons (1.814 metric tonnes) may occur

Breeding - December through February; may not breed every year; usually mate for life, however if one dies, the other will accept a new partner; aerial courtship can include locking of talons and descending somersaults

Eggs - One – two per nest; large, dull white; laid in late February or early March, two – four days apart; hatch in 34 – 36 days; male and female take turns sitting on eggs (incubate)

Habitat - Major rivers, lakes, and other large bodies of water with large trees nearby

Kentucky Distribution - Western Kentucky, especially along the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers; Land Between the Lakes area; Rolling Fork River area in Nelson County; Rough River Lake area in Breckinridge and Grayson Counties; Yatesville Lake area in Lawrence County; Laurel River Lake area in Laurel and Whitley Counties

Life Cycle 

Life Span

Life Stage


Seasonal Changes - Bald eagles migrate to Kentucky in late October and stay through February; 200 – 300 bald eagles winter in Kentucky, then migrate north in the spring


Status - Threatened (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)


Voice - Creaking crackle kleek-kik-ik-ik-ik, lower kak-kak-kak

Young - Born two – three days apart; covered in gray down; sprout feathers in four – five weeks; young eagles (eaglets) leave nest in 9 – 12 weeks

What We Can Do - Retain tall trees around water for perch and nest sites – tall trees provide a good view for hunting. Protect wintering and nesting areas – human contact can cause nest abandonment. Improve water quality by reducing or eliminating the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides – lead, mercury, and pesticides such as DDT accumulate in the food chain, affecting top predators like the bald eagle. Report poaching – the U.S. Bald Eagle Act of 1940 prohibits the killing or selling of bald eagles.


Diagnosis and Control

Interesting Facts

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