The Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) is one of the most recognizable birds in the world, as it is the American national bird. Bald eagles can be found throughout the North American continent at various times of the year, although their breeding grounds are fairly limited. The subspecies found in our area, and the rest of the Pacific Northwest, is larger than those found in the southern part of the continent.
During the 20th century, bald eagles faced extinction due to a number of factors, including high levels of poaching and DDT poisoning. DDT causes infertility in eagles, as well as causing eggshells to thin to the point that parent birds would smash the eggs while brooding them. Eagles were one of the first protected species in the US with the first protections put into place in 1918. In 1967 the bald eagle was declared an endangered species, with harsh penalties for killing birds or damaging habitat. When DDT was banned in the 1970s eagle populations began a dramatic recovery, to the point that in 2007 the bald eagle was removed from all endangered species lists. As of today 23 states in the US have at least 100 breeding pairs of eagles.
Interesting facts about bald eagles:
- Bald eagles have an average wingspan of 6 – 7.5 feet
- On at least two occasions, bald eagles have flown all the way to Ireland
- Federal laws state that only people of Native American descent can legally possess bald eagle feathers
- The largest prey an eagle has ever been verified to have carried was a 15 lb mule deer fawn.
- Female eagles are generally about 25% larger than the males of the species.