Bald Eagle Profile: Diet, Size & Lifespan (Ultimate Guide)


The bald eagle is often associated with the United States of America (USA) and is their national bird. 

Using the wind to soar hundreds of feet in the air, and hunting in a violent fashion, the majestic bird also steals food from other predators and even consumes carrion when times are rough. 

The bald eagle population had a steep decline in the 20th century, when it almost went extinct in the United States of America, but has since seen a rapid increase due to protection and removal of harmful pesticides from the environment and is now once again widely distributed in the country. 

Spending most of its time near large bodies of water, this eagle’s habitat stretches from northern Mexico all the way up to Alaska and Canada and throughout most of the lower 48 states.

What Is A Bald Eagle?

  • The bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) is a bird of prey native to North America.
  • It is both the national bird and the national symbol of the United States.
  • They are named for the distinctive appearance of their head.
  • They feed on a variety of prey, including fish, birds, and small mammals.
  • They mate for life and often reuse the same nest year after year.
  • The name “bald eagle” comes from the old English word “piebald,” which is defined as “two-colored”; and that isn’t due to their heads lacking feathers.


The bald eagle is a large bird of prey native to North and Middle America. It is a member of the Accipitridae family, which also includes other birds of prey such as hawks and kites.

Bald eagles are known for their distinctive appearance. They’re equipped with a large, yellow, hooked beak, and bright yellow feet and legs. One of the most distinctive features of adult bald eagles is their white head and tail. 

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Juvenile bald eagles, on the other hand, have a mottled brown head and tail, and they do not develop the distinctive white plumage until they reach maturity at around 4 to 5 years of age.

Oftentimes, bald eagles are mixed up with golden eagles, which are also found in North America. However, golden eagles are generally larger and have a more robust build, while bald eagles are more slender and have longer, more wedge-shaped tails. 

Bald eagles also have distinctive white heads and tails, while golden eagles have fully brown bodies.

How Strong Are Bald Eagles?

Bald eagles are powerful birds of prey that are widely known for their strength and hunting abilities. 

They are able to fly at speeds of up to 50 mph (80 kph) and can reach altitudes of over 10,000 feet (3,000 meters) with their large muscular wings. 

Bald eagles have powerful legs and sharp talons that they use to capture and kill their prey.

Their talons are particularly strong and are capable of delivering a grip pressure of over 400 pounds per square inch, which is almost as much as the bite of a full-grown lion

This allows them to easily capture and hold onto large prey such as fish and small mammals. Even though they possess immense hunting abilities, the bald eagle is only able to carry around 4-5 pounds and is therefore not able to pick up humans.

In addition to their physical strength, bald eagles are also known for their keen eyesight and sharp senses, which help them to locate and capture prey from a distance.

They have excellent vision, and are able to spot prey from over a mile away. 

These eagles are also skilled at using the wind to their advantage, and can use updrafts and thermal currents to soar effortlessly for long periods of time, and they’re thus more active on windy days, as they favor these conditions.

Where Are Bald Eagles Found?

Bald eagles are found throughout most of North America, including Canada, the continental United States, and Mexico. 

Bald eagles are found in a variety of habitats, including forests, marshes, and grasslands, and they are adapted to a wide range of environmental conditions. 

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However, they are most commonly found in areas near large bodies of water, such as rivers and lakes, and they are often found near wetlands and other areas with abundant fish populations. 

Bald eagles are also found in many national parks, wildlife refuges, and other protected areas, and these can be good places to see and observe these birds.

Not only do they reside near freshwater, but they are also found in many coastal areas, where they can feed on fish and other marine life. 

In general, bald eagles are widely distributed throughout North America and can be found in a variety of habitats.


Bald eagles are skilled hunters and are able to locate and capture prey from great distances. They are also able to fly at high speeds and soar and glide for long periods of time, which allows them to cover large areas in search of food. 

Bald eagles are one of the largest birds of prey in North America, and they play a key role in many ecosystems, due to their prey control.

Bald eagles are carnivorous birds of prey that primarily feed on fish, but they are also known to eat a variety of other animals, including birds, mammals, reptiles, and invertebrates. 

A previous study found that the Bald Eagles diet consisted of 56% fish, 28% birds, 14% mammals, and 2% other prey. The study was carried out in 20 different habitats. 

The bald eagle is known for its incredible speed, reaching a maximum of 100 mph when swooping from their scouting heights.

This makes it difficult for fish to detect the eagle’s approach, and the bird’s talons are perfectly adapted for catching fish when moving fast. 

After capturing its prey, the eagle will drag it to shore to eat. The bald eagle also uses this strategy to hunt swimming waterbirds including coots, grebes, and mallards. Occasionally, it will catch them mid-air while swooping down.

Bald eagles are also opportunistic feeders and will take advantage of whatever food is available, including carrion, eggs, and small mammals. 

In general, bald eagles are adaptable and are able to survive on a wide range of dietary preferences, as seen by the previously mentioned study.


Bald eagles are large, powerful birds of prey that are at the top of the food chain in many of the environments they inhabit. As a result, they have few natural predators. 

However, they may occasionally be preyed upon by other large carnivores, such as wolves and bears, and they may also be attacked by other eagles or large birds of prey. Their eggs are also susceptible to being robbed by opportunistic feeders. 

Bald eagles are also vulnerable to human-induced threats, such as habitat loss, persecution, and collision with man-made structures. 

In general, however, bald eagles are strong and hardy birds that are well-suited to life in the wild, and they are able to defend themselves against most threats.

Conservation Status

Bald eagles are a species of “Least Concern” according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). 

This means that they are not currently considered to be at risk of extinction, and there are stable or increasing populations in many parts of their range. 

However, bald eagles are still vulnerable to habitat loss and other human-induced threats, and they are protected by law in many countries.

Bald Eagle Population And Conservation Efforts

In the early 18th century, the bald eagle population in the United States was thought to be around 300,000 to half a million individuals. 

However, during the 1950s, the population had drastically declined to just 412 nesting pairs in the continental USA. The decline was caused by a number of factors, but the rate of decline accelerated in the early 20th century. 

The 1920s was when farmers believed that bald eagles were killing their young lambs and even kidnapping children, leading to the shooting of around 70,000 of those birds in the 1920s alone. Most of the shootings are believed to have happened illegally.

However, the majority of the eagle deaths were caused by the DDT pesticide, which became popular among farmers during the 20th century due to its good pest control abilities. 

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DDT had a devastating effect on all species of birds in the USA, as the chemical became accumulated or biomagnified in the food webs and entered the birds through their diet. 

DDT caused the bald eagle’s ability to produce eggs to deteriorate, causing their eggs to collapse during brooding. 

This inability to reproduce successfully had a significant impact on all bird species, but it was particularly felt at the top of the food webs where the bald eagle belongs.

Protection of these eagles began in 1819 with the Migratory Bird Treaty. Over 120 years later, in 1940, the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act was passed into law. 

The main goal of the treaty was to prohibit trapping the eagles for commercial uses and their killings, which drastically helped to stabilize their population decline. 

The aforementioned Protection Act was made even stricter in the years 1962 and 1972. Additionally, in 1972, the DDT pesticide was banned completely in all of the USA, which had a significant impact on the population numbers and caused them to bounce back. 

Today, estimates reveal that there are about 300 thousand birds in the country.

Migration Behavior

Bald eagles are known to migrate over very long distances, and they are capable of flying up to 500 miles in a single day.

Some populations of bald eagles migrate seasonally to take advantage of changes in food availability and weather conditions, while others are non-migratory and remain in the same area year-round. 

Bald eagles typically migrate in the fall and winter months, and they often follow the same routes year after year. 

During migration, they may travel alone or in small groups. They are adapted to long-distance flight and are able to travel great distances using a combination of flapping and gliding. 

The specific migration patterns of bald eagles can vary depending on the population and the region they inhabit.


The lifespan of a bald eagle in the wild is typically about 15 to 20 years, although some individuals have been known to live longer. In captivity, bald eagles can live for up to 30 years or more with proper care. 

The lifespan of an individual eagle can be influenced by a variety of factors, including its diet, habitat, and overall health. 

Bald eagles are strong and hardy birds that are well-suited to life in the wild, and they are able to survive and thrive in a variety of challenging environments.

Bald Eagle Intelligence

Photo: David Wood / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Bald eagles are intelligent birds that are known for their problem-solving abilities and adaptability. They are able to learn and remember complex tasks, and they are able to adapt to new environments and situations. 

In the wild, bald eagles use their intelligence and problem-solving skills to locate and capture prey, and they are able to modify their hunting techniques to take advantage of changing prey populations and conditions.

Bald eagles are also highly social animals, and they are known to communicate with each other using a variety of vocalizations and gestures. 

They are able to recognize individual members of their own species and can form strong bonds with their mates and offspring. 

Their social skills also come into play in their migration behavior, where they often form large tight groups consisting of multiple birds.

Are Bald Eagles Aggressive?

Even though they’re large and powerful animals, they are generally not aggressive towards humans, and encounters with people are very rare. 

Likewise, encounters with big mammals like deer, wolves, and dogs are very rare, as they’re not able to pick them up. 

However, like any wild animal, bald eagles may become defensive or aggressive if they feel threatened or if their young are in danger. Humans are therefore advised to give bald eagles plenty of space if spotted in the wild. 

Bald eagles are protected by law in many countries, and it is illegal to harm or harass these birds. 

In general, it is best to observe bald eagles from a distance and to respect their space.

Taming bald eagles is not an easy task and requires many years of experience as a falconer. It is still possible; however, it requires federal licensing in the USA.

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Do Bald Eagles Mate For Life?

Bald eagles are known to mate for life and to form strong, enduring bonds with their partners. Once paired, bald eagles generally remain together for many years, and may only seek a new mate if their original partner dies. 

Bald eagles typically form pairs when they are 3 to 5 years old. They are known to be highly territorial and will defend their territories against intruders, including other eagles. 

During the breeding season, bald eagles perform elaborate courtship rituals that involve vocalizations, displays, and other forms of communication.

They are also known to form strong bonds with their offspring and may work together to raise their young. 

Bald eagles typically start to nest in February hatching their eggs around mid-April. 

Their nests are usually made in tall trees and are built by both the male and the female. Their nests consist of a large number of sticks lined with finer materials that include grasses, mosses, feathers, and even cigarette filters. 

The bald eagles typically reuse their nests during their whole life making some of the nests immense, as they expand upon them every season. If the nests are abandoned by a pair of bald eagles, some owl species are known to reuse their nests.

Bald Eagle Symbolism

Bald eagles are powerful symbols of freedom and national pride, and they are often used to represent the United States and its values. 

In the USA, the bald eagle was chosen as the national emblem in 1782 due to its strength, courage, and majesty. 

The bald eagle is depicted on many national symbols, including the Great Seal of the United States, the Presidential Seal, and the U.S. dollar bill. 

In addition to their national symbolism, bald eagles are also important cultural and spiritual symbols for many indigenous peoples in North America. 

They are revered for their strength, courage, and spirit, and they are often considered to be powerful totems or messengers from the spirit world.

Interesting Facts About Bald Eagles

  • Bald eagles have excellent eyesight and are able to see prey from great distances. They are able to spot a fish from over a mile away and can dive at speeds of over 100 mph to catch it.
  • Bald eagles are known for their vocalizations, which include a variety of chirps, cackles, and other sounds. They are also able to mimic the calls of other birds, and they have been known to mimic the sound of car alarms and other human-made noises.

This video shows the call of a bald eagle:
  • Bald eagles have a unique way of drying their feathers after swimming or bathing. They will spread their wings and flap them vigorously to shake off the water, and they will also use the heat from the sun to help dry their feathers.
  • Bald eagles are known for their elaborate courtship rituals, which include aerial displays, vocalizations, and other forms of communication. During courtship, male bald eagles will perform elaborate aerial displays in which they soar, glide, and roll through the air.
  • Bald eagles are highly social animals and are known to form strong bonds with their mates and offspring. They are also known to communicate with each other using a variety of vocalizations and gestures, and they are able to recognize individual members of their own species.
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Jacob Irgens-Møller Nielsen

Jacob Irgens-Møller Nielsen is a Danish ecologist, birder and freelance writer. Aside from being a freelance writer and owning a small drone mapping and consulting business, he also works for the Danish Environmental Protection Agency, where he is managing the Danish Natura 2000-areas and Bird Protection areas. Apart from his work he’s also an avid rock climber and photographer and enjoys bird spotting around the Wadden Sea on the Danish west coast

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