About Bald Eagles

Adult Bald Eagle © US Fish and Wildlife
Adult Bald Eagle © US Fish and Wildlife

The bald eagle has always been a powerful totem in the United States, revered by the Native Americans, and chosen by the European settlers as the symbol for their new homeland. It is justly called the American eagle since it occurs only on this continent. 

An adult bald eagle is unmistakable, with white head and tail contrasting sharply with its dark body. First year young birds are entirely dark, and do not acquire their full adult plumage until their fourth or fifth year. A similar species, only occasionally seen in Massachusetts, is the Golden Eagle, which is entirely dark with a golden wash over its head and neck. Essentially a fishing eagle, it typically occurs near seacoasts, large rivers, and lakes.

Life Cycle

Both male and female work together to construct a nest of sticks lined with finer materials, usually high in a living tree. They add new material to the nest each year. In fact, 30- to 40-year-old nests have been recorded, weighing a ton or more and up to 12 feet deep.

Females lay one to three eggs, which hatch at approximately 35 days. Both parents share in the incubation and feeding of the young. In July, somewhere between 10 and 14 weeks after the babies hatch, they’re ready leave the nest, but the parents will continue to feed and care for them until September or even October. 

Once the young eagles are able to find food on their own (usually in early fall), the parents go their separate ways and remain solitary until the following breeding season

Food

Bald eagles eat fish when there’s open water, but during the winter months they will also prey on ducks and geese which they find swimming in rivers or standing on the ice. They also feed on carrion. Depending on the availability of food, bald eagles can fly dozens and dozens of miles from one food source to another. 

Sightings

Bald eagles are seen with increasing frequency during the winter in Massachusetts, where young birds (which lack the white head and tail) and adults alike will congregate around unfrozen coastal waters, large lakes, and major river systems. Christmas Bird Counts over the last three decades have estimated an increase of more than 7% every year in our winter eagle numbers.

Massachusetts Eagle Restoration Project

While considered a rare breeder in the Commonwealth, the eagle was once a relatively abundant species across North America. Yet, it suffered an alarming decline in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1982, the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife teamed with Mass Audubon to launch a project to restore the bald eagle as a breeding bird in the Commonwealth. Learn more