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Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center

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Forest and Rangeland Birds of the United States

Natural History and Habitat Use

Bald Eagle -- Haliaeetus leucocephalus

RANGE: Breeds from central Alaska and northern Yukon across Canada to Labrador and Newfoundland, south locally to the Aleutian Islands, southern Alaska, central Arizona, southwestern and central New Mexico, Baja California, and the Gulf Coast; very locally distributed in the interior of North America. Winters generally throughout the breeding range, but most frequently from southern Alaska and southern Canada southward.

STATUS: Endangered and threatened in parts of the lower 48 states.

HABITAT: Closely associated with lakes and large rivers in open areas, forests and mountains, and along seacoasts. In Alaska and Canada, where human disturbance is slight, habitat is composed of a narrow strip of land along lakeshores and rivers that provides trees for nesting, fishing, and loafing. Needs large trees adjacent to water, preferably snags, but also live trees or boulders that provide good visibility, for perching. Winters in coastal habitats and inland where ice-free waters allow access to fish.

SPECIAL HABITAT REQUIREMENTS: Large bodies of water containing abundant fish resources, large trees for nesting, perching, and roosting, and freedom from human disturbance.

NEST: Prefers to build a large, heavy nest 10 to 150 feet above ground in very tall living trees, usually close to water. If suitable trees are not available, nests are built on rocky cliffs or on the ground. Shows strong attachment to the nest site, and characteristically adds new material to the nest each year.

FOOD: Feeds primarily on fish it catches or takes from an osprey. Will feed on waterfowl and other birds, carrion, small- to medium-sized mammals, and turtles. Inland, subsists mainly on dead waterfowl during winter.

REFERENCES: DeGraff et al. 1980, Evans 1982, Fielder 1982, Grubb and Kennedy 1982, Heintzelman 1979, Mackenzie 1977, Sprunt 1955.

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