Birds of the World – Bald Eagle

One of the noblest of the species is the Bald Eagle, or White-headed Sea Eagle, as it is sometimes called (H. Leucocephalus), chosen as the national emblem of the United States. It is almost too well known to need description, as it is a not uncommon sight throughout the whole North American continent, being, moreover, especially abundant in Florida. The adults are uniform dusky brown throughout, except the head and neck, tail and tail-coverts, which are pure white, in sharp contrast to the rest of the body. The males are from thirty to thirty-five inches in length, with an extent of wings of about seven feet, while the females are from thirty-four to forty-three inches in length and have a spread of wings of between seven and eight feet.

It is quite commonly supposed that the Bald Eagle is more or less of a robber and tyrant, feeding largely on fish stolen from the Osprey, and on carrion, but this, according to that most excellent of authorities, Major Bendire, is not strictly true. He says: “According to my observations the Bald Eagle lives, to a large extent at least, on prey captured by its own exertions, principally on wounded water fowl. When employed in the chase of a flock of Geese, Brant, Ducks, or other water birds, it is by no means the sluggish, lazy bird some writers would make us believe, but the peer in swiftness, dash, and grace of any of our Raptores.” They nest principally in the vicinity of the sea or some large body of water, placing the nest usually on a large tree. ” The nests,” according to Dr. Ralph, who writes especially of their habits in Florida, ” are immense structures, from five to six feet in diameter and about the same in depth, and so strong that a man can walk around in one without danger of breaking through. They are composed of sticks, some of which are two or three inches thick, and lined with marsh grass or some similar material.” The eggs are usually two in number, though occasionally one and quite rarely three are found. They are uniformly white, without markings, and about three inches long by two and one fourth in short diameter. The young appear to remain for several months in the nest.

The Bald Eagle displays great fondness for its home, and while it may not often actually attack an intruder, even when robbed of eggs or young, it returns again and again to the same site; and when one of the pair is killed, the other apparently invariably secures a new mate and resorts to the same nest. Of the local races above mentioned, one (H. Leucocephalus hypoleucus) is found on Bering Island, and the other (H. l. alascanus) in Alaska.