A powerful bird of prey, the bald eagle is our national symbol. However, bald eagles almost went extinct by the 1970s. They have rebounded in the decades since then, with the Minnesota-Wisconsin border hosting one of the most successful recoveries.
What They Eat
Bald eagles eat a varied diet that mostly contains fish, waterfowl and dead animals (carrion).
Where They Live
Found throughout much of North America, bald eagles prefer forested areas near water or coasts. In Minnesota, bald eagles nest in deciduous and boreal forests near rivers, lakes or marshes. In winter, they can be found along ice-free areas of the Mississippi River.
What They Do
Bald eagles nest and hunt along waterways. A pair of bald eagles will remain together for years, and often for life. They will typically return to the same nest, enlarging it year after year. Nests can get quite large – measuring up to ten feet across and weighing over two tons.
How They’re Doing
While still legally protected, bald eagles are a conservation success story. Due to their large range and increasing population, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature lists them as a species of “least concern” of extinction. By 2017, 9,800 pairs of bald eagles nested in Minnesota, up from only about 480 in the entire United States just 30 years earlier.
“Bald Eagle # 9566”
This female bald eagle is on loan to the Minnesota Zoo from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. She was found in 1997 in Wisconsin suffering from a broken wing and lead poisoning. After being taken to the University of Minnesota Raptor Center, veterinarians discovered her wing injury was old and had healed in a way that made flight impossible. Because she would never be able to fly, she could not be released back into the wild.
After a year of care at the Raptor Center, the eagle came to live at the Minnesota Zoo. Although we are not sure of her exact age, this eagle had adult feathers when she came to the Minnesota Zoo in 1998. That means she was at least 4-5 years old at the time.
Where to see her: Medtronic Minnesota Trail
- Young bald eagles are often confused with golden eagles because of their mottled brown color. There are two easy ways to tell them apart – habitat and plumage.
- Bald eagles are usually found near water. Golden eagles prefer open rangeland and are uncommon in Minnesota.
- Young bald eagles lack feathers on their lower legs (tarsi). The white mottling on their head, body, wing linings, or tail feathers appears “dirty” white, rather than clean and crisp like the mottling on the golden eagle.
- On June 20, 1782, the bald eagle was voted our national symbol. Today, twelve states include the bald eagle on their official emblems.
- Eagles re-use nests and add to them each year. Well-established nests may grow as large as 10 feet across, 20 feet deep, and weigh over 2 tons!
- Because bald eagles occasionally “pirate” food from other species, Benjamin Franklin thought they were of “bad moral character” and a bad choice for our national symbol.
- Being called “eagle eye” is a compliment. Like all raptors, bald eagles have keen vision – at least four times that of a person with perfect vision.
- Bald eagles can fly to altitudes of 10,000 feet, and reach speeds of 100 mph when diving!
As a result of habitat destruction, illegal shooting, pesticides, and poisoning, bald eagles were once endangered or eliminated throughout most of the lower 48 states.
On June 28, 2007, after 40 years of successful conservation efforts, the bald eagle was taken off the Endangered Species List. At the time of delisting, there were an estimated 10,000 nesting pairs in the lower 48 states, with 1,500 pairs in Minnesota. Minnesota hosts the largest bald eagle population in the contiguous United States. By 2017, the number of bald eagle pairs in Minnesota had risen to 9,800! While bald eagles are not currently at risk of extinction, they still face threats such as lead poisoning and car collisions. You can help ensure that these magnificent birds are not at threat of extinction again by switching to lead-free fishing tackle and ammunition.
Bald Eagles are still protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, making it illegal to kill or possess an eagle (dead or alive) or any of its parts (including feathers). If you have questions about possession and use of eagle feathers and parts, please contact:
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Office of Law Enforcement
4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS-3000
Arlington, Virginia 22203
Email: [email protected]