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The Bald Eagle . Michael Thomas. Let’s talk a little taxonomy!. Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) Subfamily “Buteo”…..denoted by broad, rounded wings, heavy body, and broadly fanned tail. Also included are some of the hawks, (Red-Tailed, Broad Winged) and the Golden Eagle.

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the bald eagle

The Bald Eagle

Michael Thomas

let s talk a little taxonomy
Let’s talk a little taxonomy!
  • Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
  • Subfamily “Buteo”…..denoted by broad, rounded wings, heavy body, and broadly fanned tail.
  • Also included are some of the hawks, (Red-Tailed, Broad Winged) and the Golden Eagle.
  • Family “Accipitridae”….or Accipiters
biology and life history

Biology and Life History


Feeds mainly on fish, but will scavenge and take other prey, such as fawn deer or other birds

Can attain a wingspan of 90”
  • And a height of 42”
  • Adults can weigh between 25 and 30 pounds, although a slight percentage of females may get a little heavier (an Alaskan specimen weighed 32 ½ pounds)
  • Live 20-30 yrs.
  • Can see 3-4 times better than people
  • Breeds at 4 yrs of age, but may be 5, when full adult plumage is reached.
  • Mating occurs December through February, with eggs laid in late Feb. or early March.
  • Male and Female both incubate
  • Usually hatch in 34-36 days
  • Young sprout feathers at 4-5 weeks, leave nest at 9-12 weeks
  • Mate for life, but if a partner dies, a new mate will be selected
  • Mated pairs may not reproduce every year
  • Have spiraling dance for courtship
nest selection
Nest Selection
  • Nests are used year after year by breeding pairs
  • The largest nest of any bird in North America…….nests grows larger yearly with the addition of new material….may weigh hundreds of pounds…..with nests up to 2 tons recorded
  • Usually found in tall trees associated with shoreline, but will use cliff faces if appropriate ledges are available
  • Are NOT tolerant of human activity
  • Very territorial
Very few natural predators
    • Large size and top of the food chain
    • Man???

Horned and Snowy owls may take some young birds


All of the continental U.S. and most of Canada, ending southerly along the Rio Grande river

In Kentucky, most pairs nest along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. But some are located at Land Between the Lakes, Rolling Fork River, Rough River Lake, Yatesville Lake, and Laurel River Lake

Migrating Eagles are seen across the state

Are associated with wetlands because riverine, lucastrine, and palustrine systems have proven to be the primary habitat selected for


Interior continental eagles migrate south to the central and southern U.S.

Coastal and Great Lakes eagles usually do not migrate….more feeding capability due to no ice-up

  • MAN!!!
    • Shooting takes em’ out……$1000 a bird
    • Habitat loss…..let’s build some condos and a golf course
    • Chemicals…..pretty apples
    • Disturbance…..dang tourists
what seems to have been the problem
What seems to have been the problem?
  • First survey conducted in 1963 to assess the population. Why so long??
  • Revealed that there were less than 500 breeding pairs left in the wild.
    • Lacey Act
    • Migratory Bird Treaty Act
    • Bald Eagle Protection Act
things were lookin grim
Things were lookin’ grim!!

1978- listed as endangered in 48 states

Threatened in five (Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Washington, and Oregon)

Less than 250 “territories” were identified in 1977

DDT was the chemical of choice for Agriculture and had been for a decade

restoration efforts began
Restoration Efforts Began
  • The U.S.F.W.S. initiated Eagle recovery measures
    • With E.S.A. comes habitat acquisition
    • Habitat protection…….anywhere they build a nest is pretty much now a sanctuary
    • Total protection?? That sure is a pretty head-dress there chief.
    • Established recovery regions…..
recovery regions and their goals
Recovery Regions and their goals

Chesapeake recovery region: 300-400 nesting pairs w/1.1 young per pair for 5 years

Northern recovery region: 1200 breeding territories w/1.0 ypp

Pacific recovery region: 800 breeding territories w/1.0 ypp

Southeast recovery region: 600-800 nesting pairs w/1.1 ypp

Southwest recovery region: 300-400 nesting pairs w/1.0 ypp

did the protection and mgt work
Did the protection and mgt. work?

2239 breeding pairs in 1987

2680 in 1989

3747 in 1992

4712 in 1995

Iowa had 35 pairs in 1995 compared to 1 in 1985

things are lookin better
Things are lookin’ better!!!

All goals were met in 1992

The Bald Eagle was de-listed to Threatened status Aug. 12 1995

5500+ breeding pairs at that time

Population steady or growing in all recovery regions at the present…….except for the southwest

How could have restoration efforts been so successful?
    • Politics
    • Huge media campaign
    • NPO involvement
  • And this led to……
    • Ban on DDT and a closer look at other pesticides, fungicides, etc.
    • Increased public awareness of endangered specie biology (Think about just how important the Bald Eagle may be in that respect alone)
    • Increased biological awareness of the impacts of man-made chemicals
let s sum it up
Let’s sum it up
  • The Bald Eagle population is in much better shape than that of just a couple decades ago. (late 70’s)
  • The plight of the Bald Eagle was very important in the fact that it awoke the public to the drastic effects of man on the planet (continental loss)
big thanks to
Big Thanks To……
  • Google
  • KDFWR “AWAKE” program
  • The Audubon Society