The bald eagle was declared the national symbol of the United States in 1782. Ironically, in the lower 48 states, this species was threatened with extinction in the 1950s and 1960s, due to reproductive failure caused by the pesticide DDT.

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(Ron Weaver photo)

This pesticide was banned in 1972. Due to the banning of DDT, habitat protections provided by the Endangered Species Act, and aggressive reintroduction programs conducted by federal and state agencies, bald eagle numbers increased sufficiently to be removed from the federal list of threatened and endangered species on Aug. 9, 2007.

The bald eagle was among the first species to be listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1973 and among the first to be delisted. This species still receives protection under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald Eagle and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

The bald eagle is a true North American species — breeding and wintering from Alaska, across Canada, in most of the United States and northern Mexico.

DESCRIPTION

The sexes are alike in plumage, but the female is approximately 20% larger than the male.

The adult bald eagle is unmistakable with its all-white head and tail. The body is dark brown, and the bill, eyes, legs, and feet are yellow. The legs are unfeathered.

In-flight, the wings are long and broad and held flat while soaring.

Bald eagles do not reach adult plumage until they are 5 years old. Immature plumages vary greatly with age but include a mix of dark brown and white scattered throughout the plumage, while some first-year birds are all brown.

During the first four years, the bill is blackish, becoming light at the base, the eyes are brown, while legs and feet are yellow, like the adult.

Length: 28-38 inches

Wingspan: 6.5 feet

Weight: 6.5-14 pounds

SIMILAR SPECIES

Adult and immature golden eagles look like immature bald eagles, but they have feathered legs, the white on the underside of the wing is limited to a patch on the flight feathers, and they soar with the outer part of their wings lifted in a slight “V.”

All immature bald eagles have a variety of mixed brown and white feathers on the breast and wings. Golden eagles are rare in Tennessee in all seasons.

HABITAT

Breeds in forested areas near large bodies of water. Bald eagles winter on reservoirs and large rivers in Tennessee.

DIET

Opportunistic feeder, but prefers fish. Bald eagles will eat large birds, injured waterfowl, mammals and carrion.

NESTING AND REPRODUCTION

Bald eagles form long-term pair bonds that usually last the life of the birds. In Tennessee, egg laying peaks in late February.

CLUTCH SIZE

Usually 2 eggs, but sometimes 1 or 3 eggs.

INCUBATION

Both parents incubate from 34 to 36 days.

FLEDGLING

Both adults feed the nestlings, which leave the nest in 10 to 12 weeks. Young birds usually remain near the nest.

NEST

The male assists the female in building a large bulky nest in the top of a large tree near an opening that can accommodate their large wingspan. The nest is used for several years with new material added each year. Old nests can reach 8 feet across and 12 feet deep, and weigh more than one ton.

STATUS IN TENNESSEE

The size and distribution of the bald eagle population in Tennessee, before the continent- wide population crash in the 1950s to mid-1970s, is unknown.

However, there were no known successful bald eagle nests found in the state between 1961 and 1983. Efforts, coordinated by TWRA, to restore Tennessee’s eagle population began in 1980 and continued until 2003, and young eagles were “hacked,” a form of reintroduction, at several locations in the state.

The first successful bald eagle nest was discovered near Dover, Tennessee, in 1983. There were over 175 nesting pairs of bald eagles in the state as of 2012, and most of these birds remain in the state year-round. Eagles from more northern breeding populations migrate to Tennessee for the winter, arriving in late October, and peak numbers of 300 to 500 individuals occur in late January to mid-February.

Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agemcy