The American Bald Eagle, or Haliaeetus leucocephalus, is widely distributed throughout almost all the United States. There are 2 known subspecies of Haliaeetus leucocephalus. The first is the northern subspecies, Haliaeetus leucocephalus alascensis, that lives and breeds in Alaska and Canada. The second is the southern subspecies, Haliaeetus leucocephalus leucocephalus, that we see in the lower 48 states. In this article we’re going to look specifically at bald eagle population by state, but first let’s learn a little bit more about these amazing birds.
Bald eagles are looked at as America’s greatest conservation success story. At the founding of our country and deciding the bald eagle was to be our national bird, population numbers were around 100,000 in the lower 48 states. But habitat loss, hunting, and DDT toxicity decimated the bald eagle population down to 800 birds by the 1950’s and 60’s. But through concentrated conservation efforts and a ban on DDT, the eagles have made a comeback.
The last large scale studies on American Bald Eagle populations were done in 2007. At that time there were an estimated 30,000 birds in Alaska, and an additional 9,700 nesting pairs in the lower 48 states.
With those numbers in mind, it’s quite likely that the United States has well over 50,000 bald eagles living within its borders today in 2021. Assuming that population has continued increasing over the last decade or so.
Different states in the U.S. have different sized populations of bald eagles. Or even different types of populations. In some states the eagles may just live there part time, or only in the winter or summer. While other states they could remain all year.
In this article we’ll take a closer look at the estimated populations and ranges for each state, including what regions in these states they are more commonly seen. We’ll also link to some helpful resources for each state and give you as much helpful information about bald eagle populations in the U.S. as we can.
Let’s get to it!
U.S. states with Bald Eagle populations
Below I’ll give you some info about the bald eagle populations in each U.S. state. We’ll talk about the populations that are estimated in each state as well as where they can be found and any interesting reports of and facts about bald eagles that are specific to the particular state.
As we mentioned above, thanks to various conservation efforts, the bald eagle population is growing and expanding in the U.S. At the time of writing this there is believed to be a bald eagle population, whether it be breeding or non-breeding, in 49 of the 50 U.S. states.
The only U.S. state that does not have a Bald Eagle population is Hawaii. Hawaii has only a few raptors living on the islands. There are only 2 species of owls in Hawaii. The owls in Hawaii are the Pueo, or Hawaiian Short-eared Owl, and the Barn Owl. Aside from that you just have the Hawaiian Hawk. There is no population of eagles in Hawaii, though there have been a couple of sightings of some vagrant white-tailed eagles and stellar’s sea eagles over the decades.
Bald Eagle population in 49 U.S. states
**The following population estimates were taken from state government websites and other authoritative sources. They are accurate to the best of our knowledge.
|200 breeding pairs
|74 breeding pairs
|80 breeding pairs, 1700 wintering
|100 - 400 breeding pairs, 1,000 wintering
|200 breeding pairs, 1000 wintering
|45 breeding pairs, 100 wintering
|71 breeding pairs
|1500 breeding pairs
|200 breeding pairs
|480 - 832 total
|30-40 breeding pairs, 3100 wintering
|300 breeding pairs
|400 breeding pairs, 3000-4000 wintering
|137 breeding pairs, 500-1000 wintering
|187 breeding pairs
|358 breeding pairs
|733 breeding pairs
|over 400 breeding pairs
|76 breeding pairs
|800 breeding pairs
|9800 breeding pairs
|100 breeding pairs
|502 breeding pairs
|700 breeding pairs
|209 breeding pairs, 990 wintering
|100 - 150 wintering
|59 breeding pairs, 500 wintering
|220 breeding pairs
|2-4 pairs, over 100 wintering
|426 breeding pairs
|over 80 breeding pairs
|160 breeding pairs
|707 breeding pairs
|500-600 breeding pairs, 800 - 2000 wintering
|570 breeding pairs
|300 breeding pairs
|3-4 breeding pairs
|440 breeding pairs
|140-150 breeding pairs
|175 breeding pairs
|160 breeding pairs
|10 breeding pairs
|68 breeding pairs
|1100 breeding pairs
|900 breeding pairs
|150-300 breeding pairs
|1500 breeding pairs
|185 breeding pairs
Alabama lost its breeding population of bald eagles , but began a reintroduction program in the mid 1980’s by bringing in young eagles from Florida. An article published in 2019 cited the state as having 200 nesting pairs, with more eagles that migrate into the state during the winter. Two spots to see bald eagles are Pickwick Lake and Guntersville Lake.
Alaska has the largest population of bald eagles in the United States, with an estimated 30,000 birds. They are found all along the coast, on the islands, and along some interior lakes and rivers. The islands along southeastern Alaska have the highest nesting population. One popular spots for viewing bald eagles in Alaska is the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve. Peak viewing here is between October and February.
Bald eagles numbers in Arizona have trended upwards in the last few decades. Only 11 pairs were counted in 1978, where today there are an estimated 74 adult breeding pairs. This increase is thanks to the conservation efforts of the Southwestern Bald Eagle Management Committee. Check out their website for a lot of good information on bald eagles in Arizona.
Gone from Arkansas in 1930, the bald eagle was reintroduced in 1982 to the White River National Wildlife Refuge. While no recent eagle census data could be found, the Center for Biological Diversity states there were 80 breeding pairs in the state as of 2007. One article we found said up to 1,700 eagles may spend winter in the state.
There are a few hundred year-round bald eagle residents in California. When bald eagles from the north fly south to California in the winter, survey’s show there can be more than 1,000 bad eagles in the state. The largest concentration of bald eagles in the winter is on the Oregon boarder in Klamath Basin. The California Fish & Wildlife page has good information on where to see eagles in different parts of the state.
Colorado has approximately 200 breeding pairs of bald eagles, and that number increases to over 1,000 eagles when the winter migration group arrives. One notable spot to view the eagles is Barr Lake State Park, especially November through March.
By the 1950’s there were no longer any nesting bald eagles in Connecticut. Through conservation and a status of “endangered” in the state since the early 1990’s, the eagles are coming back. Today up to 100 bald eagles spend the winter in Connecticut, mostly along the coast and the shores of the Connecticut River. A 2019 survey showed 45 successful breeding pairs. There is great information about bald eagles in Connecticut here on the CT DEEP website.
Delaware was facing a low bald eagle population in the 1980’s with only between 2-4 nesting pairs. As of a 2016 survey the number of nesting pairs has gone up to 71. The Delaware River is an important area in the northeast for bald eagles.
Many people might not realize that Florida has one of the highest concentrations of bald eagles in the United States with an estimated 1,500 nesting pairs. The fish & wildlife conservation page has a cool interactive map of historic bald eagle nesting sites in the state. The area with the largest population of nests, up to 150, is the Prairie Lakes Unit of the Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area near Orlando. Other good sites for spotting bald eagles are Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, Withlacoochee State Forest and Ocala National Forest.
Bald eagles were in trouble in Georgia by the 1970s and added to the states endangered species list in 1974. Eagle nest sites dwindled down to zero. Numbers started to rebound in the 1980s due to protections and also some young eagles being released to areas such as Sapelo Island and Butler Island. Recent estimates believe there is about 200 nesting pairs in the state.
Bald eagle numbers have been growing in Idaho from as little as 11 known nesting territories in 1979 to 234 nesting territories by 2007. The only official quote we could find on population was from a pamphlet the Idaho Fish & Game department put out in 2008 that stated the annual statewide survey’s count has ranged from 480 to 832 birds. Some great places to view bald eagles in Idaho are the Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge, Coeur d’Alene Lake, and the south fork of the Snake River from the Palisades Dam to Henry’s Fork.
There are approximately 30 – 40 nesting pairs of bald eagles in Illinois, according to the University of Illinois natural history survey. However, when migration time comes, the population booms. Illinois boasts the largest wintering population of bald eagles outside of Alaska, with approximately 3,100 bald eagles settling in for the cold weather months. The eagles begin to arrive in December and stay until March. Illinois official state page has a great list of all the eagle watching opportunities and experiences visitors might want to check out.
Bald eagles, which had been extirpated from the state, were reintroduced to Indiana in the mid to late 1980s when 73 eaglets were brought into the state. They were raised at Monroe Lake and then released. Soon after in 1991 Indiana had its first successful bald eagle nesting, and the species was on the rebound. In 2020 state biologist estimated that there were about 300 nesting pairs of bald eagles. The Indiana DNR page says that mid-winter survey’s between 1979-2020 show a “dramatic increase in wintering eagles in the state”. The wintering population is at least in the hundreds, however we could not find any concrete estimates. Turkey Run State Park, Mississinew Lake and Salamonie Lake are good spots to see wintering bald eagles.
Iowa’s population of bald eagles has steadily been growing since 1977. In recent years counts of wintering bald eagles have been around 3,000 – 4,000. Theses numbers can vary quite a bit depending on how mild or severe the winter is. The state DNR says that many eagles likely come from Wisconsin and Minnesota, who have larger populations, looking for winter food. The DNR estimated they have about 400 bald eagle nests in the state as of early 2020. There is good viewing along the Iowa and Cedar Rivers in the winter, as well as around the Coralville Lake dam.
Bald eagles had disappeared from Kansas after the DDT crash of the 1950’s and 60’s. The first hope of a returning population began in 1989 when the first new bald eagle nest in the state was found at Clinton Lake. Since then the population has grown, and the most recent survey information we found documented 137 nesting pairs in 2018. When bald eagles come south in the winter, the number in the state may be closer to 500 – 1,000. Some notable spots for eagle viewing are Milford Lake, the Chaplin Nature Center along the Arkansas River, and the Tuttle Creek and Clinton reservoirs.
According to the Kentucky Department of Fish and wildlife resources, in 2019 the state had 187 pairs of nesting bald eagles. This was a significant increase from the only 62 pairs counted in 2010. The eagles had historically been focused in the western portion of Kentucky, but are now moving to the central and eastern parts of the state as well. This may be in part to the creation of large reservoirs that provide good habitat. An impressive comeback considering prior to 1986 all the bald eagles had been extirpated from the state!
The bald eagle population has made a huge comeback in Louisiana since only four nesting pairs remained in 1960. State biologists found 358 active nests in 2015. Learn more about the 2015 survey here. A large portion of the bald eagle nests are located in the southeastern part of the state.
By the late 1960’s most of the bald eagles were gone from Maine. But like most U.S. states, today they are on the rise. A five year study performed by the department of inland fisheries and wildlife published in 2018 reported that nesting pairs of bald eagles increased from 632 in 2013 to 733 in 2018. Eagle populations have increased in all areas of the state, but the highest recent growth has been moving westward and northward. The highest density in the state is “Downeast” Maine, which is a coastal area in the eastern portion of the state in Washington and Hancock County.
Bald eagle populations had to come back from near zero in the state in 1980. And come back they have! Bans on dangerous pesticides as well as protection from hunting have seen the population soar. So much so, that the state stopped doing official counts in 2004 when Maryland hit 400 breeding pairs. While official survey’s have stopped, today it is estimated that 2,000 or more breeding pairs of bald eagles live in and around the Chesapeake Bay. This also encompasses the Virginia portion of the Chesapeake Bay area so it is hard to say how many are located solely in Maryland.
The most recent numbers we could find estimate 76 pairs of bald eagles in Massachusetts as of 2018. They are still on the state’s list as a species “of special concern”, but have recovered enough to have been taken off the state’s endangered list in 2012. Confirmed nests occur along the Connecticut and Merrimack Rivers as well as the Quabbin Reservoir.
As of 2019 there are about 800 nesting pairs of bald eagles in Michigan. An impressive comeback from just a few decades earlier where only a few were found in the northern part of the state. In the summer many are in the Upper Peninsula. You can also look for them along Lake Michigan, especially in areas where rivers and lagoons drain into the lake. In the winter they look for any water thats not frozen, and for that reason can often be seen around dams and power plants. You can enter a lottery each year to get an up close view of the eagles that spend their winter at the DTE Monroe Power Plant.
Minnesota boasts one of the highest population of bald eagles in the U.S., outside of Alaska. In fact bald eagles have been doing so well in the state, official surveys and counts stopped in the mid 2000’s. This makes estimates today difficult to find. In 2017 the state DNR estimated 9800 pairs of bald eagles. Many of them fly further south in the winter, but some do stay year-round in the state in areas of open water and plentiful food. Some eagles are even learning to thrive in more urban areas. The last survey done in 2005 counted 60 bald eagle nests in the seven-county metro area. For more on where to see nesting eagles check out this page.
Bald eagles started to return to Mississippi in the mid 1970s in small numbers. We have not been able to track down any recent total estimates for the state. There was an estimate of 77 pairs in 2009, so figuring that might climb at least a little each year the current total may be around 100 plus pairs. A few local survey’s done in 2020 counted 28 eagles at Lake Enid, 26at Lake Grenada and 4 at Lake Sardis, but there are just totals for those specific lakes.
A Missouri Department of Conservation nest count done in late May of 2020 found 502 active eagle nests, which means a population of at least 1,000 eagles. There are also many bald eagles that visit in the winter, increasing the seasonal population, although we could not find estimates for those numbers. Some good winter viewing spots for eagles are the Lake of the Ozarks, Mingo National Wildlife Refuge and along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. The state sponsors “eagle days” that include programs, exhibits, viewing and more. You can find out the latest about Eagle Days here at the MDC site.
The population of bald eagles in Montana as grown each year since the 1980’s. The most recent numbers we could find were from the bald eagle monitoring report in 2014 which listed over 700 nesting pairs. Biologists believe the numbers will continue to increase until the state reaches “carrying capacity” (the maximum number of eagles that can exist given the available resources), however they do not know what that maximum population number is.
After many years without any eagles in the state, Nebraska saw its first successful bald eagle nest in 1991. Thankfully the numbers have just gone up from there, and as of 2017 there were 209 bald eagle nests. Nebraska is also home to some migrant eagles during the non-breeding season. According to the game & parks association, the average number of eagles overwintering in the state as of 2011 was about 990. Some favorite eagle sites are Sutherland Reservoir, Harlan County reservoir, Lake Ogallala and Lake McConaughy.
Lake Mead, Lake Mohave and Carson Valley are a few prime spots in Nevada where bald eagles come to spend the winter. They arrive in mid-November and stay until mid-February. They enjoy the eagles in Carson Valley so much there is an annual Eagles & Agriculture festival. The Nevada Department of Wildlife page says there are between 100 – 150 bald eagles that spend the winter in Nevada, however it does not list when that estimate was taken.
28. New Hampshire
Bald eagles were a rare sight in New Hampshire in 1980, but their comeback has been strong. A 2019 Audubon survey showed during the winter, there were 200 adult eagles and 200-300 young eagles for a total of approximately 500. However the number of eagles remaining for the summer breeding season is closer to 100, as the fish & game department reported 59 pairs of nesting eagles in 2017.
29. New Jersey
According to the 2020 bald eagle project report put out by the NJDEP, in 2020 New Jersey had approximately 220 active eagle nests. The report also states that half of all nests were located in Cumberland and Salem counties, and the bayside of Cape May County. Number of active nests and young has been trending up since the early 1980s. Annual eagle reports can be found on the NJDEP website here.
30. New Mexico
Most of New Mexico’s bald eagle population is migratory. Hundreds come down from the north to spend the winter months, however only two – four pairs stick around to spend the summer. We could not find any concrete numbers for the wintering population, only that it was “in the hundreds”. Reservoirs are often the spots that the bald eagles will spend their winters, such as Ute, Conchas, Ft. Sumner, Santa Rosa, Elephant Butte, Caballo, Cochiti, El Vado, Heron and Navajo. They are also seen at Maxwell National Wildlife Refuge, McAllister lake and Stubblefield lake.
31. New York
Since the ban on DDT, bald eagle populations have rebounded significantly in New York. According to the New York Natural Heritage Program, there were approximately 426 nest sites / eagle pairs during 2017. Hundreds can also be found during the winter months, typically arriving in early November and stay until March. Their main wintering areas are the Upper Delaware River, Saint Lawrence River, Lower Hudson River and Sacandaga River.
32. North Carolina
In an effort to increase bald eagle populations in the state, in the early 80’s the North Carolina Bald Eagle Project started to raise eagles in captivity and then release them. It was difficult to find any current population estimates, however one article written in a North Carolina paper in January of 2020 stated that there were more than 80 breeding pairs counted in the state. For more on bald eagle recovery in the state see this flyer from the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.
33. North Dakota
Bald eagle numbers increased from near zero in the late 1980’s to just over 160 nesting pairs by 2014. According to the state’s bald eagle page, eagle survey’s stopped in 2014 since the numbers were stable and in fact, increasing. North Dakota does however encourage people to report bald eagle nests if they see one, so that they can continue to monitor active sites. The Missouri River system is their key habitat in the state.
In spring of 2020 the Ohio Department of Natural Resources announced that there were 707 active bald eagle nesting pairs in the state. This was the first official state count performed since 2012, where 281 nests were recorded. This shows the amazing growth of the eagle population in Ohio in just 8 years. The highest numbers of nests occurred in the counties surrounding Lake Erie.
Oklahoma as of 2020 is estimated to have about 500 – 600 resident bald eagles. The state also has a large wintering population with as many as 800 – 2,000 migrating to the state between November and March. Many state parks that winter eagle watching events, such as Lake Thunderbird, Sequoyah and Beavers Bend. Check local state park and wildlife refuge pages. The Travel OK website has a great list of eagle viewing locations here.
The most recent population numbers we could find were from 2010, where the count was 570 breeding pairs. This number increases in the winter when hundreds more bald eagles migrate into the state. Although this is an old estimate, it is safe to say the population in Oregon is still going strong and has likely increased. Many states do not often have monitoring programs after the eagle population reaches a stable state. Some of the largest eagle areas are Kalamath Basin, the Columbia River south of Portland, the High Cascades and the upper Willamette River Basin.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission was quoted as saying there were about 300 active breeding pairs of bald eagles in the state as of 2020. This is up significantly from just three in 1980. The state is also home to some migrating eagles during the winter months. The lower Susquehanna River is a hot spot in the area for eagles. Check out this article for good places to view bald eagles in Pennsylvania. The PA Game Commission has a new (as of late 2020) 24/7 eagle cam that streams a nest from an undisclosed rural part of the state.
38. Rhode Island
Eagles have finally made a return to Rhode Island after many decades of not being seen. For many years only one bald eagle nest was known of in the state, however between 2015-2019 that has increased to 3-4 nesting sites. This was promising news for a future increase in nesting eagles for the state. But non-nesting eagles numbers have been increasing as well, although we could find no estimates. The Seekonk River, Scituate Reservoir, Blackstone River and Newport shoreline are just a few areas they are spotted.
39. South Carolina
An article published in 2019 listed the South Carolina bald eagle population at 440 pairs. This is an amazing success, considering there were only 13 pairs left in 1977 and the state set its recovery goal at 200 pairs. Most of the nests occur along the coastline. With coastline development increasing, it remains to be seen how well the eagles will be able to adapt to a more urbanized environment.
40. South Dakota
Bald eagles can be found in South Dakota year round. The states 2005 bald eagle management plan set a goal of 25 active eagle nests in the state. As for 2015 there were an estimated 140-150 active nests, and the state voted to take the bald eagle off their threatened species list due to their healthy population. A tip we saw was that during the winter, directly below the Missouri River dams is a good place for eagle spotting. Other “eagle hotspots” are the Lake Andes wildlife refuge and the Karl Mundt refuge.
The bald eagle population was considered zero in Tennessee between 1961 – 1983. Luckily today that number is rebounding. The most recent estimate on the official state website is from 2012 when the estimated was over 175 nesting pairs. More eagles often arrive during the winter to spend the colder months down south. Perhaps the two best known spots for eagle watching in the state are Dale Hallow Lake and Reelfoot Lake.
A 2005 bald eagle survey estimated 160 breeding pairs in Texas, compared to only 5 in 1971. That is the most recent estimate we could find. But clearly, numbers are trending up as in most states. According to the Texas Parks & Wildlife Division page, the breeding population occurs mainly along the coastal counties from Rockport to Houston, while the non-breeding (wintering) population is mainly in the panhandle, central and eastern portions of the state. Lake Texana, Lake Buchanan and Angelina National forest are a few well known spots.
As of 2005 Utah had less than ten nesting pairs of bald eagles. That was the most recent estimate we could find. Despite having a relatively low nesting population, Utah is home to a large wintering population of bald eagles. Each winter hundreds of bald eagles migrate to Utah, usually between November and March. Utah is so proud of its wintering eagles that the division of wildlife resources as dubbed February as Utah’s national bald eagle month. During February bald eagle events and viewing opportunities happen throughout the state. This page can give you some ideas of the eagle viewing locations (but note these were 2020 dates), and you can use the calendar in the sidebar to see if any current events are coming up.
While bald eagles were removed from the federal endangered species list in 2006, they have remained on Vermont’s list. However the population in the state is doing so well that the Vermont endangered species committee recommended in 2020 that they be removed from the state list as well. This was big news considering Vermont was one of the last states in the U.S. to see any eagles return. They still did not have any known breeding pairs in 2003 when they started a reintroduction program. In 2020 a state record of 68 bald eagles were observed.
The Chesapeake Bay area is a unique habitat and is believed to have once (pre 1900’s) been home to the second largest population of bald eagles in the U.S. outside of Alaska. However the increase of land development and DDT toxicity that caused a huge eagle decline elswhere in the U.S. did the same here. Breeding pairs in Virginia were down to 50 or less by the late 1970’s. Thankfully their comeback has been spectacular, and as of 2016 the Center for Conservation Biology counted nearly 1100 breeding pairs in Virginia. Some great locations for eagle viewing in Virginia are Caledon State Park, Mason Neck State Park, Leesylvania State Park, York River State Park and Westmoreland State Park.
Washington’s location makes it a very popular winter habitat for bald eagles from Canada and Alaska. The Washington Fish & Wildlife Office estimates that up to 80% of the eagles found in the state during the mid-winter months are migrants. The largest winter concentrations occur in the lower Columbia River, Skagit River, Nooksack River, and Banks Lake. As for the total population of breeding pairs, the WFWO states there are about 900 current nest sites, but does not put a date on that estimate.
47. West Virginia
An article published in 2019 stated about West Virginia 80 nests are routinely monitored, but the total estimate for the state is about 150 – 300 total nests / breeding pairs. This is up from only one nest in 1980. Some good places for spotting eagles are Bluestone Lake, along the Ohio River and Cheat Lake.
The huge increase displayed by the map below of bald eagle nesting sites between 1974 and 2019 shows the successful population growth Wisconsin has enjoyed. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources estimates there are about 1,500 nests / breeding pairs across the state.
It was surprisingly difficult to find any bald eagle population estimates for Wyoming. A 2017 survey counted at least 198 winter eagles. Yellowstone National Parks page lists 20 active bald eagle nests inside the park. A 2007 article states more than 185 breeding pairs. The general consensus seems to be the population is at least stable, and likely growing.
A quick look at Bald Eagles
Adult bald eagles have the famous fully white head and tail. However it takes juvenile eagles about five years to fully gain this classic look. They will go through several periods of molting where their feathers are a mix of browns and whites. Juvenile bald eagles are commonly mistaken for hawks, ospreys or golden eagles.
Average body length 28-40 inches. Wingspan 5 ft 11 inches to 7 ft 7 inches. Weight 6.6 to 13.9 pounds. Female bald eagles are typically larger than the males by about 25%. In general, bald eagles living further south are smaller than those living far north, and the eagles in Alaska are the largest.
Eagles are often called “opportunistic carnivores”, eating a wide variety of available prey. Fish tend to make up at least half of their diet. Bald eagles have been recorded eating at least 100 different species of fish such as salmon, catfish, trout, carp, bass and shad. They are much more likely to go after a larger sized fish of about 15 inches than a small fish of 10 inches or less.
Bald eagles also eat many other species of birds, often waterfowl. Grebes, mallards and coots are common. Larger eagles and even take down seagulls and geese. As for mammals, bald eagles are known to eat rabbits, squirrels, raccoons and muskrats. Sometimes larger prey may be taken like foxes, beavers and opossums. Even reptiles can be prey for eagles, especially in areas such as Florida with large reptile populations.
Bald eagles have the ability to “gorge” themselves. They eat as much as their stomach will allow, and can then store an additional 2 pounds of food in a pouch in their throat called a “crop”. This can help them get through lean times if food is unavailable for days.
Bald eagles nest throughout the United States, but always in close proximity to water with adequate supply of fish. Wetlands, river banks, lakes and seacoasts are the most common. Because eagle nests are so large and heavy, it is important the trees surrounding the wetland area are large and mature. Bald eagles tend to be sensitive to human activity while they are nesting, and will normally prefer secluded areas.
Bald eagles are ready to mate by age 4 or 5. During courtship they perform elaborate flight displays, including the famous “cartwheel”. In the cartwheel, the two eagles soar high up, then lock talons and spin like a cartwheel while falling towards the ground. A bald eagle pair will usually stay together until one of them dies. They may also decide to find new mates if they have more than one unsuccessful breeding attempts.
These eagles lay eggs earlier in the year than most other raptors, usually by the end of February and early March. This puts egg hatching around April – May. Bald eagle nests are the largest of any North American bird. Nests are often reused and added to each year. They can get as large as 8 feet across and weigh up to one ton.
It is estimated that in the late 1700’s bald eagle numbers were up around 100,000 in the lower 48 states. With human settlement came habitat loss, and unregulated hunting. However the biggest problem the eagles faced was caused by the pesticide DDT.
In the mid 1940’s DDT became a popular pesticide both in agriculture and in the household. The chemical made its way up the food chain and caused many negative environmental and health effects. For bald eagles, it interfered with their ability to metabolize calcium. This caused some eagles to become sterile. For those that did lay eggs, they were so brittle that they would break when the eagles tried to incubate them.
The population was quickly decimated. It is believed the total number of bald eagles in the lower 48 states was down to just 417 nesting pairs. DDT was finally banned in 1972. This ban, along with protection from hunting and other conservation efforts, brought bald eagles back from the brink.
The last large scale studies on American Bald Eagle populations were done in 2007. At that time there were an estimated 30,000 birds in Alaska, and an additional 9,700 nesting pairs in the lower 48 states.
Bald eagles can be found throughout Canada and the United States, and even into some parts of Mexico. Many of the eagles that breed in Alaska and Canada will migrate south into the U.S. to spend part of the winter. There are also many areas in the U.S. where the bald eagles stay year round, mainly along the coast and banks of large rivers.
Tips to spot Bald Eagles
- Look near water sources. Bald Eagles are always on the lookout for good fishing. Along the coast, and along the shores of large rivers and lakes. In the winter, areas of unfrozen water around dams are popular eagle spots.
- Use binoculars or scopes to scan trees. Eagles like to perch in tall trees along the edge of bodies of water. Find a vantage point that has a good unobstructed shoreline view.
- Cloudy and overcast days are best. In this weather, eagles tend to stay perched more and return to the trees after eating. On sunny days, they like to ride the thermal updrafts that may take them too high to be seen for long periods of the day, even with binoculars.
- Consider time of day. Dusk and dawn are good for spotting roosting eagles. Another good time to catch bald eagle activity is between dawn and 11 am.
- Try to keep quiet. This is probably obvious but don’t do anything that could spook the eagles. Keep some distance, and keep car noise to a minimum. If you have a loud or rambunctious dog, best to leave them at home.
- Remember to dress for the weather! In many areas the best eagle viewing happens during the winter after the eagles have migrated south. Make sure you bundle up properly since you will need some time and patience sitting out in the cold.
Bald eagles can be found in every state. Check with your local Audubon for tips on local hotspots. Here is a short list of some of the best known bald eagle spots, get ready to plan your next birding vacation!
- Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, Utah
- Conowingo Dam, Maryland
- LeClaire Lock and Dam 14, Iowa
- Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge, Missouri
- Skagit River, Washington
- Klamath Basin, California-Oregon
- Starved Rock State Park, Illinois
- Chilkat River, Haines Alaska