What is a Bald Eagle?

N. Madison

The bald eagle is a bird that is found in North America. With the exception of Hawaii, this bird of prey lives in every part of the United States; as well as in Canada. The bald eagle lives near water, such as rivers, lakes, and along seacoasts; it prefers areas in which tall trees are available and fish are handy for consumption. Bald eagles, living in the upper parts of North America, migrate south during the winter to find a more readily available food supply. Some living in the southernmost parts of North America migrate north during the summer, escaping sweltering temperatures.

The bald eagle is a bird of prey that eats primarily fish, as well as small rodents and snakes.
The bald eagle is a bird of prey that eats primarily fish, as well as small rodents and snakes.

Newly hatched bald eagles have a light gray coloring that changes to speckled brown as they age; the young birds also have dark brown beaks and eyes. Adult bald eagles have yellow beaks and eyes, weighing approximately seven to 15 pounds (3.2 to 6.8 kilograms). They have white heads, with tail feathers to match, and darker bodies. They range in length from 29 to 42 inches (73.7 to 106.7 centimeters) and boast a wingspan of about six to eight feet (1.8 to 2.4 meters); female bald eagles tend to be larger than their male counterparts. The bald eagle is among the largest birds on the North American continent.

The Founding Fathers chose the bald eagle as America's national emblem.
The Founding Fathers chose the bald eagle as America's national emblem.

Though the bald eagle chooses to dine mostly on fish, it does count many other animals among its prey. The bald eagle eats a variety of small animals, including snakes and rodents. Though it is not its normal diet, the bald eagle will even consume dead animals occasionally. Bald eagles swoop down and grab their prey, catching them in their strong, sharp talons. Though they are capable of diving at speeds of up to 100 miles (160.9 kilometers) per hour, they generally don’t dive vertically in pursuit of food; they descend more slowly and snatch prey with their talons instead.

Bald eagles may be found in North America.
Bald eagles may be found in North America.

The bald eagle is a faithful bird, staying with one mate for its entire life. However, it will choose another bird if its mate dies. Together, bald eagles fly to the top of tall trees to create large nests, returning each year to breed. They line their nests with such things as sticks, feathers, and grass, adding nesting materials each year. Bald eagle mates share in hunting responsibilities, as well as those related to the birth and care of their offspring.

The bald eagle has been the United States’ national emblem since 1782. It is said that Benjamin Franklin preferred the wild turkey, accusing the bald eagle of having a low moral character. However, the Founding Fathers settled on the bald eagle, citing the fact that its species was unique to the continent. Since its selection as the national bird, the bald eagle has been used to represent the United States in a variety of sectors, including art, music, and folklore.

Bald eagles primarily eat fish.
Bald eagles primarily eat fish.

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Discussion Comments


Eagles will attack almost any animal to protect their young. I saw a documentary on the golden eagle and the eagles were attacking cameramen who were trying to get a closer view of the chicks in the nest. And the eagles can severely injure a person with the force of their strikes.


@Animandel - I basically agree with what @Feryll said about your dog being in no great danger from eagles. However, you might be interested to know that some bald eagles kill and eat baby deer. Not to worry though, the eagles are perfectly aware that a fawn is easy prey while an adult dog or cat might put up more of a fight.


@Animandel - I had the same concerns about our cats and hawks in the area. I heard someone say that hawks will make meals of cats when given the chance. I have since come to the conclusion that while this is a possibility the chances are slim that one of our cats will be attacked by a hawk.

The same is probably true with an eagle and your dog. As the article says, eagles prefer to eat fish and then they also eat rodents and snakes. For a bird, the easier prey is the best option. If an eagle attempts to make a meal of a dog or a cat there is a greater chance that the eagle will be injured making the kill.

If an eagle injures a wing or gets poked in the eye it is putting its own chances of survival in jeopardy. So, yes a bald eagle could attack your dog, but the odds are in favor of this not happening.


I have seen in movies where bald eagles will sometimes swoop down and snatch up animals larger than rodents, like small pets for example. I saw a large bird in our neighborhood a few days ago, and I am wondering if I should keep a closer eye on our small dog. I wouldn't want her to become a snack for an eagle.

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