Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
Description: The Bald Eagle is a very large raptor with a dark brown body and wings and a white head and tail. Its legs and feet are bright yellow, as is its large, hooked bill. Its eyes are light yellow. Immature eagles are mostly brown from head to tail with mottled brown and white feathers on the chest. The sharp hooked bill is gray and their eyes are light brown (see photos).
Females are larger than males, weigh from 10-14 pounds, and have a 6½- to 7-foot wingspan. Males usually weigh from 8-10 pounds and have a 6- to 6½-foot wingspan.
Call: Call is a high-pitched whistling or piping.
Range / Habitat:
This species is common along salt and freshwater bodies at lower elevations throughout western Washington. They are especially common along the Puget Sound, throughout the San Juan Islands, and along the Olympic Peninsula coastline. They are also found along many major rivers in western Washington. They are uncommon along major river valleys and lakes in eastern Washington, mostly along the Okanogan, Sanpoil, Kettle, Columbia, Colville, and Pend Oreille Rivers. They are not found breeding in the Methow valley, apparently this is due to a lack of suitable nesting habitat.
Click the range map to learn more about the distribution of Bald Eagles in Washington.
Diet: Bald eagles feed on live fish that they snatch out of the water using their sharp talons. The undersides of eagle's feet are rough, and keep the fish from slipping from the eagle's grasp. They also feed on dead spawned salmon along the stream banks. Bald eagles eat ducks and other birds in addition to small mammals. In the San Juan Islands, eagles hunt rabbits as the main source of food. (Seattle Audubon Society)
Behavior: Bald Eagles are typically seen soaring on flat wings, flying with strong, slow wing beats, or perching in tall trees near rivers or lakes. They are both predators and scavengers, and tend to be opportunistic feeders. They swoop down to the water or ground with feet thrust forward to snatch prey, then fly off with the catch held in their powerful talons.
Bald Eagles start breeding when they are mature at 4 to 6 years old. Once they find a suitable mate, they often remain paired for life.
Nesting: Bald Eagles build large stick nests, called eyries, in tall trees or on cliffs. They keep adding sticks to the nest yearly until the size reaches up to 9 feet in diameter and weighs up to 2,000 pounds!
In the San Juan Islands, there is a tremendous concentration of Bald Eagles. Other areas with dense nesting populations include the coast between Port Angeles and Copalis Beach and along islands in Whatcom, Skagit, and Island Counties. This species also commonly nests along major rivers in western Washington. Bald Eagles are not adverse to nesting near people, as several nests within the Seattle city limits demonstrate.
Bald Eagles typically breed in pairs. The female lays 2 eggs, at the end of February or the first days of March. Both parents incubate the eggs for 34 to 36 days. For the first two weeks after the young hatch, one parent is with the chicks almost constantly.
Conservation: The bald eagle was officially listed as an endangered species in 1976. In 1995 the bald eagle was downlisted to threatened. It is considered a threatened species by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
In Washington, there are currently more than 550 active Bald Eagle nests, including many in urban settings like Seward Park in Seattle.
Did you know?
Adult Bald Eagle
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