10 Facts about the American Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
Spring is in the air and so are the bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). At the Little Miami Conservancy (LMC) our eagle nesting pair has settled in to produce the next generation of fledglings. Our eagles have a rapt audience (1000 plus) who have tuned in to view their progress via our Little Miami Conservancy Live Eagle Cam generously sponsored by the Jurgensen Companies.
Many people claim to know a lot about bald eagles. Aside from the fact that the bald eagle is the National Bird how much do you really know? Read on!
1. The bald eagle has been a part of the Great Seal of the United States since 1782, a symbol of strength and fidelity. The eagle was a controversial selection, as many people referred to the eagle as a nuisance bird for its predatory nature. In fact, it is reported that Benjamin Franklin proposed the turkey as his bird of choice.
2. In the 19th century the bald eagle was considered a predator – just like a wolf or a coyote - receiving a bad reputation as a bird who would kill livestock, take a portion of a fisherman’s catch. There were even fictitious reports of baby stealing. This reputation caused many eagles to be killed or harmed.
3. The Bald Eagle Protection Act of 1940 and subsequent amendments, was passed to stop this senseless hunting and makes it illegal to possess, sell, hunt or even offer to sell, hunt or possess bald eagles – including feathers, nests, or other parts of the eagle. It is illegal to disturb bald eagles and you must stay at least 100 yards away in order to respect nest sites.
4. The next phase of destruction, the use of a pesticide – DDT, since banned – further harmed the eagle population. DDT has a detrimental effect on both humans and wildlife. In the case of wild birds, DDT effects their food source, damaging egg viability. The pesticide was banned in 1972 for use in agriculture.
5. In the 1960s, the bald eagle was close to extinction with only 483 pairs in 48 states. As a consequence, the declining bald eagle population was placed on the endangered species list. In Ohio, there were only 4 nesting pairs reported in 1979. Happily, that trend is reversing and these magnificent birds are increasing in numbers.
6. In 2019, Ohio reported 346 eagle nests, a 22% increase from 286 nests in 2018. To date, in 48 states there are 3900 reported nesting pairs of the eagle, an astounding turnaround of this once threatened, magnificent bird.
7. Eagles are ready to breed at 4-5 years of age. In Ohio, the breeding season is February – March based on temperatures. Eagles are dramatic in courtship behavior, with dramatic flight and aerial feats. This is thought to demonstrate the male eagle’s agility and strength as well as ensuring the pair’s bonding.
8. Building the nest is a partnership between the male and female and may begin 1-3 months prior to mating. Eagles choose to build nests in forested areas – in the tallest tree near water for protection and food. The nest is typically 4-5 feet in diameter. Eagles tend to return to the same area and/or nest if it was previously successful in producing eaglets. The eagles build the nest from sticks and line it with softer materials (moss, grasses, etc.). While initial nests take about 1-3 months to build, eagles will add to existing nests, often expanding the nest by a foot in diameter and height annually.
9. Eagles lay between 1-3 eggs – known as a clutch - over the course of 4-5 days. The incubation period is about 35 days. Eagle parents share the duties of keeping the eggs warm – partnering – in order for the male or female to hunt for food.
10. Hatching the eggs is completed by the egg bound hatchling, using an egg tooth or notch on their beak called a “pip”. This tooth eventually falls off after a time. The act of breaking through the egg is called “pipping”
Stay tuned for further Eagle developments and learn more at:
Jack E. Davis, "The Bald Eagle, The Improbable Journey of America’s Bird," 2022