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BC Conservation Data Centre: Species Summary

Haliaeetus leucocephalus
Bald Eagle

Scientific Name: Haliaeetus leucocephalus (Linnaeus, 1766)
English Name: Bald Eagle
Classification / Taxonomy
Scientific Name - Concept Reference: American Ornithologists' Union (AOU). 1998. Check-list of North American birds. Seventh edition. American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C. [as modified by subsequent supplements and corrections published in The Auk]. Also available online:
Classification Level: Species
Species Group: Vertebrate Animal
Species Code: B-BAEA
Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Craniata Aves Accipitriformes Accipitridae
Conservation Status / Legal Designation
Global Status: G5 (Apr 2016)
Provincial Status: S5B,S5N (Mar 2015)
BC List: Yellow
Provincial FRPA list:   
Provincial Wildlife Act:
COSEWIC Status: Not at Risk (May 1984)
SARA Schedule:
General Status Canada: 4 - Secure (2005)
Migratory Bird Convention Act:
Ecology & Life History
General Description: Adults have a white head, white tail, and a large bright yellow bill; elsewhere the plumage is dark. Immatures are dark with variable amounts of light splotching on the body, underwing coverts, flight feathers, and tail base; averages 79-94 cm long, 178-229 cm wingspan (NGS 1983).
Global Reproduction Comments: Clutch size is 1-3 (usually 2). Incubation lasts about 5 weeks, by both sexes. Second hatched young often dies. Young first fly at 10-12.5 weeks, cared for by adults and may remain around nest for several weeks after fledging. Generally first breeds at about 5-6 years. Adults may not lay every year.
Global Ecology Comments: Commonly roosts communally, especially in winter. See Curnutt (1992) for information on the dynamics of a year-round communal roost in southern Florida.

In Montana, the introduction of shrimp (MYSIS RELICTA) had a cascading effect through the food chain, ultimately causing displacement of bald eagles (Spencer et al. 1991).
Migration Characteristics:
(Global / Provincial)
    Local Migrant:
    Distant Migrant:
    Within Borders Migrant:
Y /
Y /
Y /
na /
Global Migration Comments: Most eagles that breed in Canada and the northern U.S. move south for winter. Migrates widely over most of North America (AOU 1983); moves generally E-SE across Canada and the Great Lakes region to the northeast coast of the U.S. In the northern Chesapeake Bay region, radio-tagged northern migrants arrived in late fall (mean date 21 December) and departed in early spring (mean date 27 March); radio-tagged southern migrants arrived throughout April-August and departed June-October (Buehler et al. 1991). See Palmer (1988) for fairly detailed review of seasonal movements in various regions.

Defended territories are relatively small; fourteen in Alaska varied from 11-45 hectares and averaged 23 ha (Hensel and Troyer 1964), and territory radius around active nests averaged 0.6 km in Minnesota (Mahaffy and Frenzel 1987). Feeding home ranges surrounding active nests are undoubtedly much larger, depending on proximity to food sources and abundance of food. Minimum home range of breeding birds in Saskatchewan was 7 square kilometers (Gerrard et al. 1992); on the Columbia River, Oregon, breeding home ranges averaged 21.6 square kilometers (Garrett et al. 1993).

Winter home ranges can be very large, especially for nonbreeding birds. An immature wintered in Arizona over an area of >40,000 square kilometers and spent the summer in the Northwest Territories over a summer range of >55,000 square kilometers (Grubb et al. 1994). Maximum distance between feeding area and night roost site was less than 16 km in winter in Missouri (Griffin et al. 1982). In north-central Arizona, February-April home range of immatures averaged 400 square kilometers; birds moved frequently and roosted singly or in small groups (Grubb et al. 1989).
(Type / Subtype / Dependence)
Agriculture / Cultivated Field / Unknown
Agriculture / Hedgerow / Unknown
Agriculture / Pasture/Old Field / Unknown
Forest / Conifer Forest - Dry / Unknown
Forest / Conifer Forest - Mesic (average) / Unknown
Forest / Conifer Forest - Moist/wet / Unknown
Forest / Deciduous/Broadleaf Forest / Unknown
Forest / Mixed Forest (deciduous/coniferous mix) / Unknown
Lakes / Lake / Unknown
Ocean / Intertidal Marine / Unknown
Ocean / Marine Island / Unknown
Ocean / Sheltered Waters - Marine / Unknown
Ocean / Subtidal Marine / Unknown
Other Unique Habitats / Estuary / Unknown
Riparian / Riparian Forest / Unknown
Stream/River / Stream/River / Unknown
Wetland / Bog / Unknown
Wetland / Fen / Unknown
Wetland / Marsh / Unknown
Wetland / Swamp / Unknown
Global Habitat Comments: Breeding habitat most commonly includes areas close to (within 4 km) coastal areas, bays, rivers, lakes, reservoirs, or other bodies of water that reflect the general availability of primary food sources including fish, waterfowl, or seabirds (Andrew and Mosher 1982, Green 1985, Campbell et al. 1990). For example, in Saskatchewan lakes, bald eagle density was positively correlated with abundance of large fishes (Dzus and Gerrard 1993).

Nests usually are in tall trees or on pinnacles or cliffs near water. Tree species used for nesting vary regionally and may include pine, spruce, fir, cottonwood, poplar, willow, sycamore, oak, beech, or others. Ground nesting has been reported on the Aleutian Islands in Alaska, in Canada's Northwest Territories, and in Ohio, Michigan, and Texas. The same nest may be used year after year, or a pair may use alternate nest sites in successive years. See Livingston et al. (1990) for a model of nesting habitat in Maine. See Wood et al. (1989) for characteristics of nesting habitat in Florida (most nests were in live pine trees). In Oregon, most nests were within 1.6 km of water, usually in the largest tree in a stand (Anthony and Isaacs 1989). In Colorado and Wyoming, forest stands containing nest trees varied from old-growth ponderosa pine to narrow strips of riparian vegetation surrounded by rangeland (Kralovec et al. 1992). In Arizona, recent nests were on cliffs or pinnacles, or in large cottonwoods, willows, sycamores, or ponderosa pines, usually within 1 km of a riparian corridor (J. T. Driscoll, in Corman and Wise-Gervais 2005).

In winter, bald eagles may associate with waterfowl concentrations or congregate in areas with abundant dead fish (Griffin et al. 1982) or other food resources. Wintering areas are commonly associated with open water though in some regions (e.g., Great Basin) some bald eagles use habitats with little or no open water (e.g., montane areas) if upland food resources (e.g. rabbit or deer carrion, livestock afterbirths) are readily available (GBBO 2010). Wintering eagles tend to avoid areas with high levels of nearby human activity (boat traffic, pedestrians) and development (buildings) (Buehler et al. 1991). Bald eagles preferentially roost in conifers or other sheltered sites in winter in some areas; typically they select the larger, more accessible trees (Buehler et al. 1991, 1992). Perching in deciduous and coniferous trees is equally common in other areas (e.g., Bowerman et al. 1993). Communal roost sites used by two or more eagles are common, and some may be used by 100 or more eagles during periods of high use. Winter roost sites vary in their proximity to food resources (up to 33 km) and may be determined to some extent by a preference for a warmer microclimate at these sites. Available data indicate that energy conservation may or may not be an important factor in roost-site selection (Buehler et al. 1991). Communal night roosts often are in trees that are used in successive years.
Food Habits: Carnivore: Adult, Immature
Piscivore: Adult, Immature
Global Food Habits Comments: Feeds opportunistically on fishes, injured waterfowl and seabirds, various mammals, and carrion (Terres 1980). See Haywood and Ohmart (1986), Kralovec et al. (1992), Brown (1993), and Grubb (1995) for diet of inland breeding populations in Arizona, Colorado, and Wyoming. Hunts live prey, scavenges, and pirates food from other birds (e.g., osprey) and, in Alaska, sea otter (Watt et al. 1995, Condor 97:588-590). See Palmer (1988) for further information on hunting methods. In the Columbia River estuary, tidal flats and water less than 4 m deep were important foraging habitats (Watson et al. 1991). See Caton et al. (1992) for information on foraging perches used in Montana. Sheep carcasses were significant food sources in winter in Oregon (Marr et al. 1995, Wilson Bulletin 107:251-257).
Global Phenology: Crepuscular: Adult, Immature
Diurnal: Adult, Immature
Global Phenology Comments: In the Columbia River estuary, foraging activity was most common at low tide and first daylight (Watson et al. 1991). In Arizona, foraging activity during the breeding season peaked at 0800-1000 and 1600-1900 MST (Grubb 1995).
Provincial Phenology:
(1st half of month/
2nd half of month)
Colonial Breeder: N
Length(cm)/width(cm)/Weight(g): 94/ / 5244
Elevation (m) (min / max): Global: 
Endemic: N
Global Range Comment: Breeding range extends from central Alaska, northern Yukon, northwestern and southern Mackenzie, northern Saskatchewan, northern Manitoba, central Ontario, central Quebec, Labrador, and Newfoundland south locally to the Commander and Aleutian Islands, southern Alaska, Baja California (both coasts), Sonora (Brown et al. 1988), New Mexico, Arizona, Texas Gulf Coast, and Florida (including the Keys); breeding is very localized in the Great Basin and prairie and plains regions in interior North America, where the the breeding range recently has expanded to include Nebraska and Kansas. In Arizona, nesting occurs primarily along the Salt and Verde rivers in the central part of the state; only a few pairs nest in the western part of the state ( In Nevada, the few nesting pairs are primarily in the west-central part of the state, with another nesting area in extreme southern Elko County (GBBO 2010).

In the nonbreeding season, bald eagles occur generally throughout the breeding range except in the far north (AOU 1983, Sibley and Monroe 1990), most commonly from southern Alaska and southern Canada southward. The Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve, Alaska, supports the largest wintering population anywhere (Ehrlich et al. 1992). Winter concentrations occur in British Columbia-northwestern Washington, along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, and in northern Arkansas. One of the largest fall (mid-October to mid-December) migrant concentrations (200-300 birds at any one time, close to a thousand individuals through the season) occurs at Hauser Lake near Helena, Montana.
Authors / Contributors
Global Information Author: Hammerson, G.
Last Updated: Aug 19, 2011
Provincial Information Author:
Last Updated: Dec 29, 1997
References and Related Literature
American Ornithologists' Union (AOU). 1983. Check-list of North American Birds, 6th edition. Allen Press, Inc., Lawrence, Kansas. 877 pp.
Anthony, R. G., and F. B. Isaacs. 1989. Characteristics of bald eagle nest sites in Oregon. J. Wildlife Management. 53:148-159.
Bent, A.C. 1937. Life histories of North American birds of prey. Part 1. Bull. U.S. Natl. Mus. 137. 409 pp.
Bird, D. M., editor. 1983. Biology and management of bald eagles and ospreys. MacDonald. 325 pp.
Blood, D.A. and G.G. Anweiler. 1994. Status of the Bald Eagle in British Columbia. B.C. Minist. Environ., Lands and Parks, Wildl. Branch. 92 pp. Working Report WR-62.
Booth, B.P., and M. Merkens. 2000. A Case History of Community-Based Involvement in the Management of a Species at Risk: Wintering Bald Eagles in the Squamish Valley. Pp. 853-858 in L.M. Darling, ed. 2000. Proc. Conf. on the Biology and Manage. Species and Habitats at Risk, Kamloops, B.C., 15-19 Feb., 1999. Vol. 2; B.C. Minist. Environ., Lands and Parks, Victoria, BC, and Univ. College of the Cariboo, Kamloops, BC. 520pp.
Bowerman, W. W., T. G. Grubb, J. P. Giesy, A. J. Bath, and G. A. Dawson. 1993. Population composition and perching habitat of wintering Bald Eagles in northcentral Michigan. Canadian Field Naturalist 107: 273- 278.
Brown, B. T. 1993. Winter foraging ecology of bald eagles in Arizona. Condor 95:132-138.
Brown, B. T., and L. E. Stevens. 1992. Winter abundance, age structure, and distribution of bald eagles along the Colorado River, Arizona. Southwestern Naturalist 37:404-435.
Brown, B. T., et al. 1989. Changes in winter distribution of bald eagles along the Colorado River in Grand Canyon, Arizona. J. Raptor Research 23:110-113.
Brown, B. T., P. L. Warren, and L. S. Anderson. 1988. Status of bald eagles in the Rio Yaqui drainage of Sonora, Mexico. Page 321 in Glinski et al., eds. Proc. Southwest raptor management symposium and workshop. Nat. Wildl. Fed. Sci. and Tech. Ser. No. 11.
Buehler, D. A., et al. 1991a. Differences in distribution of breeding, nonbreeding, and migrant bald eagles on the northern Chesapeake Bay. Condor 93:399-408.
Buehler, D. A., et al. 1991b. Effects of human activity on bald eagle distribution on the northern Chesapeake Bay. J. Wildlife Management 55:282-290.
Buehler, D. A., et al. 1991c. Survival rates and population dynamics of bald eagles on Chesapeake Bay. J. Wildlife Management 55:608-613.
Buehler, D. A., et al. 1991d. Nonbreeding bald eagle communal and solitary roosting behavior and roost habitat on the northern Chesapeake Bay. J. Wildlife Management 55:273-281.
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Please visit the website Conservation Status Ranks for definitions of the data fields used in this summary report.

Suggested Citation:

B.C. Conservation Data Centre. 2011. Species Summary: Haliaeetus leucocephalus. B.C. Minist. of Environment. Available: (accessed Feb 6, 2023).