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Bald Eagle

Haliaeetus leucocephalus


The adult bald eagleis a large dark brown bird with a white head and tail and yellow bill, eyes, legs and feet. The female is larger than the male by as much as 25 percent. The juvenile bald eagle is mostly dark brown with dark brown eyes and a gray or black bill, but has white patches or spots on its tail, belly and under its wings. Plumage of juveniles varies, generally losing the white on their bodies and becoming increasingly white on their heads and tails as they gain maturity. Full adult plumage for bald eagles typically appears in their fifth year.


Florida has one of the densest concentrations of nesting bald eagles in the lower 48 states. An estimated 1,499 nesting pairs were recorded in Florida in 2014, compared to only 88 active nests in 1973. Bald eagles and their nests are protected by state rule and federal law. Their nesting territories are concentrated around inland lake and river systems in peninsular Florida, such as the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes, and along the Gulf coast. Bald eagles use forested habitats for nesting and roosting, and expanses of shallow fresh or salt water for foraging. Nesting habitat generally consists of mature canopy trees located along habitat edges, providing an unobstructed view of surrounding areas. Daytime roosts are in the highest trees and adjacent to shorelines. High quality foraging habitat for bald eagles has a diversity and abundance of prey, access to shallow water and tall trees or structures for perching. They feed on a wide variety of prey, mostly on fish such as catfish but also on birds and small mammals. They may harass other birds in flight to drop their fish and scavenge roadkill or other available carcasses. 


Bald eagles in Florida return to nest territories in the fall to begin nest building or repair. Their breeding season may extend to late April or May when young are able to fly. While highly social outside of nesting season, bald eagles are extremely territorial when nesting. They can breed in their fourth year but may wait until two or three years later if breeding competition is intense. Eagles typically produce one brood per nesting season, but may re-nest if the first clutch is lost. Nests are quite large and typically located less than two miles from water. A record-sized nest in St. Petersburg, Florida was 9.5 feet in diameter and 20 feet tall. Most eagle nests are in live native pine trees but they also nest in cypress trees, oaks, mangroves and artificial structures such as communication towers. Their nests are spaced apart to ensure sufficient food for nestlings and to raise young without disturbance from other eagles. In Florida, females typically lay a clutch of 1-3 eggs between December and early January, with incubation lasting about 35 days. Nestlings in Florida fledge, or become able to fly, at about 11 weeks but remain with their parents near the nest for another four to 11 weeks. Most of Florida's breeding bald eagles, especially those in the extreme southern peninsula, remain in the state year-round. Sub-adult, non-breeding eagles migrate out of Florida starting in spring and summer and returning in fall and winter. A bald eagle in the wild may live up to 28 years.