New York Natural Heritage Program
Bald Eagle
Haliaeetus leucocephalus (Linnaeus, 1766)
Birds

Identifying Characteristics [-]
Adult bald eagles can easily be identified by their white head, white tail, and large, bright yellow bill. The plumage is otherwise dark. Immature bald eagles are dark with variable amounts of light splotching on the body, underwing coverts, flight feathers, and tail base. They have a grey bill. Adult plumage and a yellow bill are attained at four to five years of age. The average size of an adult is 79-94 cm (31-37 inches) long with a wingspan of 178-229 cm (70-90 inches) (National Geographic Society 1987). Bald eagle nests are built near the top of sturdy, tall trees. The nest is a flat-topped mass of sticks that is lined with fine vegetation such as rushes, grasses, and mosses. Each year, the breeding pair adds to the nest resulting in a massive nest that can be seven to eight feet across and weigh up to several tons. Eggs are slightly smaller than a domestic goose egg and are dull white. Their call has been described as a harsh cackle, kleek-kik-ik-ik-ik or a lower kak-kak-kak.

Behavior [-]
At approximately 5 years of age, Bald Eagles reach sexual maturity. They typically mate for life, but exceptions are noted. Courtship displays can be observed late winter to early spring and involve elaborate aerial displays; the pair will dive with locked talons. Males and females build nests together and continue to add sticks each breeding season. In addition, the pair incubates and cares for young together. However, the female takes on most of this responsibility. After the breeding season, Bald Eagles are often found at communal roosts and feeding areas.

Diet [-]
The Bald Eagle's primary food sources are fishes, injured waterfowl and seabirds, various mammals, and carrion. They are opportunistic feeders; they will hunt live prey, scavenge, and pirate food from other birds.
Bald Eagle Images
click to enlarge
The Best Time to See
Concentrations of Bald Eagles can be found in New York during the winter months. In southeastern New York, Bald Eagles begin arriving on the wintering area in early November and are most abundant in February. During late February to early March, Bald Eagles are moving to their breeding territories.
J F M A M J J A S O N D
Present Breeding
The time of year you would expect to find Bald Eagle present (blue shading) and breeding (orange shading) in New York.
Similar Species
  • Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)
    Ospreys have a white head like the Bald Eagle, but unlike the Bald Eagle, they have a prominent dark eye stripe. Ospreys are white below and dark brown above. When in flight, ospreys' long, narrow wings are bent back at the wrist.
  • Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos)
    Immature Bald Eagles differ from immature Golden Eagles in that the Golden Eagle has feathered legs and white is limited to the flight feathers. Also, Golden Eagles soar with the outer part of the wings lifted in a slight dihedral.