Beak of the Week – Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)

Family: Accipitridae

By Jon Piasecki, Houston Audubon Conservation Technician

Often recognized as a national symbol of the United States, the Bald Eagle has been the country’s national bird since 1782. Known for their bright white heads and tails and yellow bills, Bald Eagles can be found throughout most of North America. Some areas of the United States host Bald Eagles year-round, typically in coastal areas or near waterways. Other populations of Bald Eagles breed in Alaska and Canada and extend their wintering range south to encompass all lower 48 states.

The Bald Eagle saw a sharp decline in population size during the mid-20th century because of pesticide use (specifically DDT), trapping, and poisoning. The species was listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1978 and saw an amazing resurgence following protective measures. The Bald Eagle has since been removed from the endangered species list due to its population growth; however, it remains an important bird that continues to need monitoring and protection.

Bald Eagles prey on a variety of animals including fish, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and even birds. They may either catch and eat their prey live or sometimes act as a scavenger and prey on animal carcasses. Typically, Bald Eagles mate for life, returning to the same nest every year to raise a new brood of chicks. Their nests are very large, usually 5-6 feet wide. Once a clutch of 1-3 eggs is laid, both parents will take turns incubating the nest. Typically, the eggs hatch after just over a month, and the chicks will remain in and around the nest for up to an additional 3 months. Bald Eagles can live on average between 20-30 years, with the oldest known individual having been at least 38 years old.

Bald Eagles can be seen all throughout Texas this time of year, usually near bodies of water or soaring in the sky. This fall and winter, there have been sightings of Bald Eagles in Smith Oaks Sanctuary in High Island as well as along the Bolivar Peninsula. Next time you see a bird soaring overhead, be sure to look for a white head or tail!

 Visit our Bird Gallery to read about other Texas birds! 

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