Photography Articles (On my blog)
Bald Eagle Photos (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
The Bald Eagle is so named for its conspicuous white head and tail. The distinctive white adult plumage is not attained until 5 or more years of age. Immature birds lack this easily identifiable characteristic and can be confused with the Golden Eagle. The immature Bald Eagle's un feathered tarsi (lower legs) and whitish wing linings on the forward part of the wings, can be helpful distinctions where the two species coexist. The Bald Eagle is Alaska's largest resident bird of prey (the Steller's Sea Eagle is larger) with a wing span up to 7 1/2 feet (2.3 m) long and weights of 8 to 14 pounds (3.6-6.4 kg). Like many raptors, females are larger than males.
Found only in North America, Bald Eagles are more abundant in Alaska than anywhere else in the United States. The Alaska population has been estimated to include 30,000 birds at the time of fledging. Bald Eagles are often found along Alaska's coast, offshore islands, and Interior lakes and rivers. The highest nesting densities occur on the islands of Southeast Alaska. Most Bald Eagles winter in southern Alaska, but some leave the state during cold months. In the Chilkat Valley, over 3,000 birds may congregate in late fall and early winter to feed on spawned-out salmon.
Reproduction and nesting
Bald Eagles often use and rebuild the same nest each year. Nest trees are usually close to water, afford a clear view of the surrounding area, and often provide sparse cover above the nest. In Southeast Alaska, Bald Eagles usually nest in old-growth timber along saltwater shorelines and mainland rivers.
Eagles in South central Alaska nest in old cottonwood trees near water. Nest building begins in April, and both the male and female gather nest material. In late April, two (sometimes three) dull white or creamy yellow eggs are laid several days apart. Incubation lasts about 35 days. When the young hatch, sibling rivalry is common and the weaker, usually the younger, chick is killed or starved. The surviving young leave the nest after approximately 75 days. They do not attain adult plumage and breed until 4 or 5 years of age.
Bald Eagle, Homer, Alaska © Patrick J. Endres After the breeding season, Bald Eagles congregate where food is plentiful, and they may continue to roost near the nest tree.
Reproductive success can be affected by pesticides in the eagles' prey. Alaska Bald Eagles seem to be reproductively healthy, but contaminants have been recorded in Alaska fish populations and in Bald Eagles.
A greater threat to Alaska's Bald Eagle population is destruction of their nesting habitat by logging and nest disturbances. Nest trees tend to be the largest in the stand and are usually 400 years old. In treeless areas on the Aleutians, nests are located on rock pinnacles, or they may be on the ground.
Fish are the main diet of the Bald Eagle. Herring, flounder, pollock, and salmon are taken along the coast, while the Interior populations prey heavily upon salmon. Eagles also prey upon waterfowl, small mammals, sea urchins, clams, crabs, and carrion.
Claims by fox farmers and fishers of eagle depredations caused the Alaska Territorial Legislature in 1917 to impose a bounty system on eagles. These claims were later found to be mainly false, but over 100,000 eagles were killed before the bounty was removed in 1953. With statehood in 1959, the Bald Eagle in Alaska received federal protection under the Bald Eagle Protection Act of 1940.
This act made it illegal to kill or possess an eagle, alive or dead, or to possess any part of an eagle, including feathers. Bald Eagles were endangered or eliminated throughout most of the Lower 48 states as a result of habitat destruction, illegal shooting, pesticides, and poisoning. Bald Eagle populations are recovering in many states because of strong support for endangered species wildlife habitat. Alaska's populations remain healthy, but destruction of nest sites by logging, deterioration of salmon spawning streams by logging, mining, and other development, and increased human disturbance of eagles in remote areas pose potential problems for Alaska's Bald Eagles.In 1972, the Alaska State Legislature established a stretch of the Chilkat River as critical bald eagle habitat to ensure protection of the large numbers found there in winter. In 1982, a portion of the surrounding area was established as the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve.
To hunt fish, bald eagles swoop down over the water and snatch the fish out of the water with its talons. They eat by holding the fish in one claw and tearing the flesh with the other. © Patrick J. Endres
Eagles that are old enough to breed often return to the area where they were born. An adult looking for a site is likely to select a spot that contains other breeding Bald Eagles. © Patrick J. Endres
The Bald Eagle is so named for its conspicuous white head and tail. The distinctive white adult plumage is not attained until 5 or more years of age. © Patrick J. Endres
Bald Eagles build huge nests out of branches, usually in large trees near water. The nest may stretch as large as eight feet across and weigh up to a ton. © Patrick J. Endres
Bald Eagles have powerful talons. In one case, an eagle was able to fly off with the 6.8 kg (15 lb) carcass of a Mule Deer fawn. © Patrick J. Endres
Recoverd bald eagle is released back into the wild at the Alaska Raptor Rehabilitation center in Sitka, Alaska. © Patrick J. Endres