Bald eagles are unique to North America in the wild. The bald eagle is a sea eagle and largely feeds on fish, water birds and small mammals. Despite becoming North America’s national bird in 1782, they were still hunted.
They are now an threatened species and though hunting was banned in 1940, Alaska continued hunting them until 1962. It is very sad that in Alaska there was even a bounty on them and people were given $2 for each set of talons brought in. This was all because of ignorance of the species and their activities, as it was once believed that bald eagles attacked livestock and they were shot for sport.
The population was also driven down by DDT, a popular insecticide which is now banned, but which was used heavily during the 1900s and first used in the Second World War. The effects of DDT and other pesticides had an immense strain on the bald eagle’s ability to rear their young. It takes five years before bald eagles are developed enough to produce eggs. They find a partner for life and the female lays one to three eggs a year, but DDT and other pesticides in the ecosystem have made the shells thinner and fragile and less likely to survive till hatching.
Despite their name, bald eagles are not actually bald, but have white heads and tails, complimented with dark brown plumage. Their beaks, eyes and talons are yellow. Female bald eagles are bigger than males and can grow to have a wingspan of 2.5 metres or 8ft. They mainly live inland close to expanses of waters, such as rivers, lakes or isolated coasts. Bald eagles tend to nest in tall trees, or on craggy cliffs away from places disturbed by people.
Within the order of falconiforms, bald eagles are in the family of Accipitridae, along with Hawks, other eagles and kites. In captivity, the bald eagle can be mistaken for the white tailed eagle, the UK’s largest bird of prey. The white tailed eagle is also endangered and is being reintroduced into the wild. Many eagle populations are in the red, having few breeding pairs in the wild.