Bald Eagle

Haliaeetus leucocephalus

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The Oregon resident is also the national bird of the United States of America. Early settlers to the continent were impressed by this bird’s physical size, striking appearance and longevity. During the American colonial period, there may have been as many as 50,000 breeding pairs in the area that would eventually become the continental United States. This bird’s abundance and uniqueness to North America helped seal it as the national symbol of the newly formed republic in 1782.

The Bald Eagle can be recognized by its blackish feathers with a white head and tail. Its bill and talons are both bright yellow. Juvenile birds lack the white highlights, however, and more closely resemble Golden Eagles.

Like the Osprey, the Bald Eagle hunts fish from the air. It will often soar over lakes, rivers and bays until it spots a school of fish near the surface. The eagle will then swoop down, talons first, and pluck its prey from the water. Only rarely does the bird submerge itself as an Osprey might. Because of its taste for fish, the eagle can often be spotted combing beaches, sometimes feasting on carrion it finds there.

Range and Habitat

Unique to North America, the Bald Eagle can be found in every one of the lower forty-eight states of the U.S. Because of its appetite for fish, the eagle prefers to nest and hunt close to seashores, lakes and rivers. It will build elaborate nests at the tops of old growth forest which are then used by successive generations of birds. The largest such nest in the U.S. was over 20 feet (6 m) tall and 9 feet (2.7 m) in diameter.

Conservation Status

Common, but being monitored. Like many other bird species in the United States, the Bald Eagle fell victim to pesticide poisoning in the 1960s which decimated its numbers. It quickly became one of the most high-profile animals on the Endangered Species List. But in time, the Bald Eagle also became a model of recovery thanks to thoughtful legislation and aggressive conservation efforts. It was officially delisted as an endangered animal in 2007. The eagle continues to be protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act of 1940, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and various other federal laws.