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Bald Eagle

Common Name: Bald Eagle.

Scientific Name: Haliaeetus Leucocephalus.

What to look for?  The national emblem of the United States of America! The Bald Eagle is a very large raptor with very long, broad wings. These majestic birds are not truly bald. Rather, it is their distinctive white-feathered heads that gleam in contrast to their dark brown body and wings. Their tail is also white. Their legs and bills are bright yellowish color. Juvenile birds have mostly dark heads and tails. And their brown wings and bodies are mottled with white in varying amounts. These young birds finally attain adult plumage in about five years.

Where can they be found at Carillon Stonegate Pond? Bald Eagles are a rare sighting. Over the last three years, a Bald Eagle was seen flying over Carillon at Stonegate twice. And there was the extraordinary sighting here recently of a Bald Eagle resting on the north bank of our west pond and even diving on the pond’s surface to catch a fish (Note that Kane County Forest Preserve waived the “catch & release” rule for this fisherman!).

How big are they? The Bald Eagle is large! They average nearly 3 feet in length. With a wingspan of nearly seven to eight feet, Bald Eagles are one of the largest birds you’ll see in North America. They weigh in at around 10 pounds. The Bald Eagle dwarfs most other raptors, including the Red-tailed Hawks that frequent Carillon Stonegate Pond.

What are their flight patterns? Bald Eagles are powerful fliers. With slow, powerful wingbeats, Bald Eagles can cover long distances. They will soar and glide. In flight, a Bald Eagle holds its broad wings flat like a board. You may find Bald Eagles soaring high in the sky over Carillon Stonegate Ponds during a spring or fall migration.

How else do they behave? Bald Eagles will harass other birds to scavenge a meal from them. They are capable of floating and will use its wings to “row” over water too deep for wading. When they hunt, they may watch from a high perch and then swoop down to catch prey in its talons.

What’s for dinner? Fish! The Bald Eagle is a carnivore and fish constitutes the centerpiece of their diet. Depending upon geography, they feed on salmon, carp, catfish, herring and many others. When fish are scarce, they eat birds, reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates such as crabs, and mammals including rabbits and muskrats. They take their prey live, fresh, or as carrion. Sometimes Bald Eagles will steal fish from Ospreys or other birds.

Where do they take up residence? Bald Eagles are found throughout North America. Bald Eagles require three things for survival: (1) an adequate supply of food, (2) nesting sites close to food and a body of water, and (3) a location with a degree of solitude during nesting periods. Hence, Bald Eagles typically nest in forested areas adjacent to large bodies of water. For perching, Bald Eagles prefer tall, mature coniferous or deciduous trees that afford a wide view of the surroundings.

When and where do they breed and nest? Bald Eagles are believed to mate for life. Breeding season is generally during the first three months of the year, although somewhat extended in the southeast and southwest U.S. At the beginning of the breeding season, they perform impressive aerial courtship flights. Bald Eagles construct enormous stick nests in trees. These nests are typically 5 to 6 feet in diameter and 2 to 4 feet tall. Bald Eagles tend to a pair of eggs each year.

Where do they migrate? They may be permanent residents in some locales and migrants in other places. The migration patterns of Bald Eagles are complex and depend on age, breeding location, and food availability. Northern adults begin fall migration when lakes and rivers freeze, usually heading to the coasts or southward to open water. Then, early in the year, they return to their breeding grounds when weather and food permit.

What is their conservation status? There is low concern. The Bald Eagle is a spectacular conservation success story. Numbers have increased over the past several decades. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 250,000. In 1978 the Bald Eagle was listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act. In June 2007 the Bald Eagle was removed from this list.

Do they make any interesting sounds? The Bald Eagle emits a surprisingly weak-sounding call - a series of high-pitched whistling or piping notes.  Here is a link to the sounds of the Bald Eagle.

Interesting Facts About the Bald Eagle:

  • The Bald Eagle has been the national emblem of the United States since 1782.

  • A Bald Eagle will harass a hunting Osprey until the smaller raptor drops its prey in midair, where the eagle swoops it up.

  • Because of the above, Benjamin Franklin did not support the Bald Eagle’s national bird status and thought the “Bird is of bad moral Character’ and “does not get his Living honestly”.

  • The largest Bald Eagle nest on record was over 9 feet in diameter and 20 feet tall.

  • The oldest known Bald Eagle in the wild was approximately 38 years old.

For more information on the Bald Eagle and sources of information used in this blog (these are the sources that I am using to learn as I blog), please visit All About Birds, the Audubon Society, National Geographic and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. And the Cornell Lab of Ornithology provides a wonderful source of information for anyone interested in learning more about birds.

The Carillon at Stonegate community is very fortunate to have a variety of wetland, forest and prairie environments conducive to a variety of birds and other wildlife, plants and insects. Our community and the Kane County Forest Preserve do an exceptional job in maintaining this natural environment – both for the benefit of the birds and wildlife and for our residents to enjoy.


Take a hike and see what you can find – and identify!

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