Favorite Bald Eagle Questions and Answers

Since March, 2001, the American Eagle Foundation (AEF) has responded to thousands of E-mail inquiries <EagleMail@Eagles.org> about bald eagles, including the following favorites:

1. Why Are Some Eagles Called Bald eagles? There are 59 species of eagles in the world. Only the Bald and Golden Eagles are found in North America. . Balde was an old English word for white. The English settlers therefore named the “Bald eagle”, meaning “white-headed eagle”. The head feathers of Bald eagles are brown until 4 to 5 years of age, when white feathers gradually replace the brown ones.

2. How did bald eagles become our national symbol? The 2nd Continental Congress selected the Bald eagle as the U.S. National Symbol on June 20, 1782. Benjamin Franklin preferred the wild turkey. Both the Bald eagle and Wild Turkey are true native birds of North America. The majority considered the Bald eagle a better symbol of: power, courage, freedom, loyalty, and spirit.

3. What is the average number of eaglets per nest? Bald eagles lay one to three eggs per year. They hatch after about 35 days of incubation. An average of 1.4 to 1.7 eaglets will grow up to first fly at about 12 weeks age.

4. How can you tell the difference between a male and female bald eagle? Male and female Bald eagles look exactly the same from the outside, except the female is usually larger. .

5. How big and how small can a Bald eagle get? Their wingspread varies from 6 to 8 feet. Male Bald eagles’ weight may range from 6 to 9 pounds, with females’ weights usually 20 to 30 percent greater. Northern eagles tend to be larger. Alaskan females reach up to 15 pounds. Florida males may weigh only 6 pounds.

6. How long does an average Bald eagle live? About 50 percent die during the first year due to their inexperience at meeting the dangers of living in the wild. After their first year, about 90 percent survive each year. The longest that any Bald eagle has been known to live in the wild is 39 years. They may live over 50 years in captivity due to fewer hazards and veterinary care.

7. Do bald eagles soar alone? Bald eagles tend to soar alone, rather than flocking with other eagles. However, they sometimes concentrate in the same place due a plentiful common food source or for shelter from the cold wind.

8. What is the diet of the bald eagle? Fish comprise about 70 to 90 percent of the diet of Bald eagles. However, Bald eagles are opportunist feeders, meaning they will feed on what is most available, and requiring the least amount of energy to acquire it. For example, Bald eagles will often follow the fall migration of ducks and geese and feed on birds that have been injured by hunters. They also can feed on moderately sized wild mammals, such as ground hogs.

9. How do baby eagles learn to fly? Eaglets fly in place over their nest until they feel strong and brave enough to fly for the first time at approximately 12 weeks of age. Winds stimulate the eaglets to exercise to the extent that, where winds are more consistent, they may exercise enough to fly by 10 weeks of age. In the absence of winds, their first flight may be delayed a week or more.

10. How many bald eagles once lived in the United States? The bald eagle once ranged throughout every state in the Union except Hawaii. When America adopted the bird as its national symbol in 1782, as many as 100,000 nesting bald eagles lived in the continental United States, excluding Alaska.

11. How did bald eagles become endangered? After the insecticide DDT was used extensively after the mid 1940’s, bald eagle populations declined substantially. DDT caused the egg shells to become so thin that they would easily break. By 1963, only 417 nesting pairs were found in the lower 48. DDT was banned from use in the United States in 1972 and in Canada in 1973, making it possible for recovery programs to be successful.

12. How has “hacking” helped restore bald eagles? Approximately 15 states have released bald eagles from artificial nests in hack towers in order to restore natural nesting. The principle behind eagle hacking programs is that eagles tend to return within approximately 75 miles of their maiden flights to nest after they reach sexual maturity of 4 to 5 years age.

13. How has the American Eagle Foundation been involved with hacking and release of bald eagles? By the end of 2010, AEF had released a total of 105 young bald eagles from its Douglas Lake, TN hack site. AEF has assisted the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and other partners in the hacking at 5 of 7 hack sites in Tennessee. From 1980 through 2010, a total of 330 bald eagles that have been released in Tennessee, the most hack releases of any state.

14. When was the bald eagle listed as Endangered and Threatened? Bald eagles were listed as Endangered in 43 of the lower 48 states from 1967 until 1995. They were listed as Threatened in all lower 48 states from 1995 until 2007, when there were over 10,000 bald eagle pairs in the lower 48 states. The bald eagle is still listed as Threatened in the Sonora Desert region of Arizona. In 2010 there were over 12,000 bald eagle pairs in the lower U.S.

15. What is the primary law protecting bald eagles? Protection of the Bald eagle and its habitat are now under the jurisdiction of the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (BGEPA). Penalties can be as high as $100,000 for individuals and $200,000 for organizations. Eagles are not allowed to be “disturbed” under the BGEPA, as may be interpreted in the federal, “Bald Eagle Management Guidelines”. Disturb means: “to agitate or bother a bald or golden eagle to a degree that causes, or is likely to cause, based on the best scientific information available, 1) injury to an eagle, 2) a decrease in its productivity, by substantially interfering with normal breeding, feeding, or sheltering behavior, 3) nest abandonment, by substantially interfering with normal breeding, feeding, or sheltering behavior”.

16. Why do bald eagles still need our help? Bald eagles still need protection of their habitat for nesting, feeding and roosting. Their populations are required to be monitored for at least 20 years in order to maintain and enhance their recovery to date. However, after delisting, funds are likely to be much less available for these vital needs.

17. How can bald eagles benefit from Bald Eagle Commemorative Coins? The American Eagle Foundation is designated by Congress to administer funds from the sale of Bald Eagle Commemorative Coins, which were minted and marketed by the U.S. Mint in 2008. Of the $7.8 million generated from these sales, AEF placed $5.8 million in an perpetual endowment fund, called the American Eagle Fund. This Fund has grown sufficiently for AEF to begin receipt of grant applications in 2011 for nationwide Bald Eagle conservation and education projects beginning in 2012 (see www.eagles.org).

18. How can we help bald eagles?  Click on “Ways You Can Help” within the American Eagle Foundation web site, www.eagles.org.

by Bob Hatcher, Blog Editor and AEF Eagle Correspondent


About Bob Hatcher

Primary Blog Contributor, Eagles.org American Eagle Foundation
This entry was posted in Am Eagle Foundation Activities, Eagle Coins & Eagle Gifts, Educational Programs & Festivals, Life History, Biology, & Behavior, Nesting & Recovery History, Propagation/Hacking/Releases, Symbolism, Ways to Help Eagles. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Favorite Bald Eagle Questions and Answers

  1. I was wondering if eagles bathe in water like regular birds do to clean their feathers? I have been watching the Decorah Eagles since April of this year. Very interesting and has been a very learning experience. They are such beautiful birds!

  2. Bob Hatcher says:

    Yes, bald eagles sometimes bath. They may submerge themselves partly, to almost totally, under the water, then strongly flap their wings and shake their feathers while standing in the water. Since “a picture is worth a 1000 words”, you can see some good YouTube videos by entering “Bald Eagles Bathing” in Google.

  3. breanna says:

    why do we need to protect the bald eagles?

    • Bob Hatcher says:

      Thanks, Breanna, for your question. Bald eagles are protected for many reasons, including the following:

      1. The bald eagle was selected as our National Symbol on June 20, 1782 by the Second Continental Congress. It represents this country for its: freedom, peace, patriotism, strength, perseverance, loyalty, spiritual and human values, and much more. It is a resident of only North America.
      2. Since the late 1940’s, bald eagle populations in the lower 48 States declined dramatically. By 1963, only 417 nesting pairs were found in the lower 48 States. The insecticide, DDT, caused their egg shells to be so thin that they would break when the parents tried to incubate them for hatching. Bald eagles were listed as Endangered in 1967, meaning our National Symbol was in danger of becoming extinct. After DDT was banned from use in the U.S. in 1972, various reintroduction programs gradually led toward the recovery of bald eagles. In 1995, bald eagles were down-listed from Endangered status. In 2007, they were de-listed from Threatened status in all of the U.S.
      3. Bald eagles are protected primarily by the “Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act”. It provides heavy fines for actions threatening the welfare of eagles. In 2007, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service issued the “National Bald Eagle Management Guidelines”. They provide guidelines for specific actions that can threaten bald eagles and their habitats. It also provides for heavy fines for those who harm eagles or their habitats.
      4. Viewing of Bald Eagles contributes strongly to the economy in many states. According to the National Survey of Wildlife Related Recreation for 2006, 20 million people took trips away from their homes during 2006 to observe and photograph wild birds. Total wildlife viewing expenditures were $45.7 BILLION. Birds provide about 88% of the wildlife viewing in the U.S. Eagles are the most valued viewable bird species, as evidenced by the large number of eagle festivals, featuring eagle viewing and educational programs (see “Eagle Festivals and Events” in the “Educational Resources” section within the American Eagle Foundation’s web site, http://www.eagles.org.
      5. As more people learn about bald eagles, the want to support them even more. The American Eagle Foundation (AEF) flies Challenger, a non-releasable bald eagle, at major sporting events and conventions around the country in order to inspire and stimulate the public for more needed support of bald eagles.
      6. The vast majority of people advise us that Challenger’s flight really enhances their patriotism near the conclusion of the Anthem. New York Yankees President George Steinbrenner probably wrote the best description of that patriotism after Challenger flew at a World Series game in October, 2001, slightly over one month after “911”:

      “At that very moment, I was prouder to be an American than at any other time in my life. I thought I might ‘Burst’ with pride. Watching Challenger fly into the stadium with such regal grace and incredible dignity – he didn’t just represent our national emblem – he WAS our national emblem – here with us – on this unbelievable day, reminding us all of who we were and who we would ALWAYS be – AMERICANS. It was awe-inspiring!!! It was pre-ordained!”

  4. cathy says:

    how many feathers does a bald eagle have?

  5. Bob Hatcher says:

    Thanks Cathy for your question. A bald eagle has approximately 7,000 feathers.

  6. James Yockey says:

    Thanks to you Bob for fielding these questions and educating us all. I have a question; I have been watching with interest the BE nest in Southwest Florida. I have read about the chicks head movements as sugesting they are intentional agression; i.e. boping each other by slinging their necks and heads against one another. My question is are the head movements voluntary or involuntary head and neck movements? In my viewing, it certainly looks involuntary in the first weeks of their existence. Apprecitate your response to clarify this for me.

    • Bob Hatcher says:

      James Yockey,

      Thanks for your interesting question of why young eaglets bob their heads in their nest. I asked Dr. Fred Alsop that question. He has served about 35 years as ornithology professor at East Tennessee State University and is one of the most respected ornithologists of the Southeast. He had just stated in a presentation to a Wilderness Wildlife Week audience in Pigeon Forge, TN that he tries to teach his students to first observe birds, then interpret their actions. He said that very young eaglets, owlets, etc. bob their heads to orient themselves with distances of their surrondings within the nest.

  7. I found this amazing blog post , “Favorite Bald Eagle Questions and
    Answers | American Eagle Foundation”, extremely entertaining
    plus the post ended up being a fantastic read. Thanks a lot,Beulah

  8. Ann says:

    How high does a bald eagle normally fly?

    • Bob Hatcher says:

      Thanks for your inquiry to the American Eagle Foundation (AEF) (www.eagles.org) concerning how high bald eagles may fly.

      There are numerous reports of eagles soaring so high that they go out of sight, when viewed from the ground. I once heard a TV report of a commercial airplane pilot, who was flying at an unspecified “high altitude”, and was amazed to look upward and see an eagle soaring high above the airplane. I don’t know how the airplane or eagle was flying. I also have not seen a report concerning their maximum flying altitude. I can therefore only deduct how high they might be able to fly, based on height limitations for thermals and related eagle soaring.

      Eagles are relatively heavy and do not like to expend extra energy of flapping their wings to fly for long periods of
      time or to great heights. They therefore utilize thermals on which to soar as much as feasible. They thereby minimize the energy required for wing flapping. Eagles typically soar on thermals when climbing to high altitudes. Such thermals represent heat radiating from the earth. We typically can see eagles and other birds of prey soaring on thermals after about 10 a.m. when the earth warms sufficiently from the sun’s rays to generate rising heat. We do not associate soaring birds with cold or cloudy weather over land, unless perhaps there is enough heat reserve on the earth’s surface to generate thermals.

      Two pertinent questions might therefore be: 1) what is the maximum altitude for soaring on thermals, and 2) at what altitude would oxygen be too depleted for their normal breathing?

      Heat convections, or thermals, extend from the earth to only the top of the troposphere, or up to the bottom of the stratophere. The troposhhere extends from the earth to an altitude of about 6.2 miles in temperate zones and up to about 10 miles high near the equator, where the earth is warmer. Since the air in the troposhere is more turbulent than in the stratosphere, airplanes tend to fly just above the troposphere. Airplane gliders sometimes fly above the troposphere, using typical thermals within the troposphere, plus a wave lift from mountain ranges to lift them into the stratosphere. Air turbulence to the top of the troposphere would logically provide adequate oxygen there, at least during such turbulence. For more information, click on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stratosphere.

      Under the right maximum atmospheric conditions, it seems logical that bald eagles could be found at 20,000 feet, which would be at an altitude of about 3.75 miles.

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