• Skip to Content
  • Skip to Main Navigation
  • Skip to Local Navigation
  • Skip to Search
  • Skip to Sitemap
  • Skip to Footer
Help develop a Bird ID tool!

Bald Eagle

Haliaeetus leucocephalus ORDER: ACCIPITRIFORMES FAMILY: ACCIPITRIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

The Bald Eagle has been the national emblem of the United States since 1782 and a spiritual symbol for native people for far longer than that. These regal birds aren’t really bald, but their white-feathered heads gleam in contrast to their chocolate-brown body and wings. Look for them soaring in solitude, chasing other birds for their food, or gathering by the hundreds in winter. Once endangered by hunting and pesticides, Bald Eagles have flourished under protection.

300x250Sponsored Ad
2013 PromotionSponsored Ad

Keys to identification Help

Hawklike
Hawklike
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    The Bald Eagle dwarfs most other raptors, including the Turkey Vulture and Red-tailed Hawk. It has a heavy body, large head, and long, hooked bill. In flight, a Bald Eagle holds its broad wings flat like a board.

  • Color Pattern

    Adult Bald Eagles have white heads and tails with dark brown bodies and wings. Their legs and bills are bright yellow. Immature birds have mostly dark heads and tails; their brown wings and bodies are mottled with white in varying amounts. Young birds attain adult plumage in about five years.

  • Behavior

    You'll find Bald Eagles soaring high in the sky, flapping low over treetops with slow wingbeats, or perched in trees or on the ground. Bald Eagles scavenge many meals by harassing other birds or by eating carrion or garbage. They eat mainly fish, but also hunt mammals, gulls, and waterfowl.

  • Habitat

    Look for Bald Eagles near lakes, reservoirs, rivers, marshes, and coasts. For a chance to see large Bald Eagle congregations, check out wildlife refuges or large bodies of water in winter over much of the continent, or fish processing plants and dumpsters year-round in coastal Alaska and the Pacific Northwest.

Range Map Help

Bald Eagle Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • Adult

    Bald Eagle

    Adult
    • Very large raptor with long, broad wings
    • White head and tail unmistakeable
    • Powerful yellow bill
    • © Laura Erickson, Duluth, Minnesota, May 2011
  • Adult

    Bald Eagle

    Adult
    • Large, barrel-chested raptor
    • Dark brown throughout with white head and tail
    • Heavy yellow bill
    • © Raymond Lee, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, January 2011
  • Adult

    Bald Eagle

    Adult
    • Very large and heavy-bodied raptor
    • Mostly dark brown
    • White head and tail
    • Heavy yellow bill
    • © Raymond Lee, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, January 2011
  • Adults feeding chick

    Bald Eagle

    Adults feeding chick
    • Adults with white heads and yellow eyes
    • Chick mostly dark brown with dark eye
    • © Bill Majoros, North Carolina, August 2009
  • Juvenile in nest

    Bald Eagle

    Juvenile in nest
    • Very large and heavy-bodied raptor
    • Solid dark brown overall
    • Thick black bill
    • © CleberBirds, Orlando, Florida, March 2011
  • Juvenile

    Bald Eagle

    Juvenile
    • Very large raptor with broad, straight-edged wings
    • Mostly dark brown overall
    • White mottling on underside of wings
    • Heavy black bill
    • © Michael J. Andersen, Harry S. Truman Reservoir, Benton County, Missouri, January 2010
  • Juvenile

    Bald Eagle

    Juvenile
    • Heavy-bodied with broad, straight-edged wings
    • Large head with thick black bill
    • Mostly dark brown
    • White mottling on underside of wings
    • © Roger P. Kirchen, Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta, Canada, July 2011
  • Juvenile

    Bald Eagle

    Juvenile
    • Very large, heavy-bodied raptor
    • Large head
    • Mostly dark brown overall
    • Heavy black bill
    • © Raymond Lee, Strathcona County, Alberta, Canada, July 2011
  • Second year

    Bald Eagle

    Second year
    • Very large, heavy-set raptor
    • Large head with thick black bill
    • Dark brown with extensive white mottling on belly and wings
    • Frosty white streaks on crown
    • © Robinsegg, Farmington Bay, Utah, January 2008
  • Second year

    Bald Eagle

    Second year
    • Very large and broad-winged
    • Thick yellow bill is black at tip
    • Dark brown above
    • Extensive white mottling on belly and underwings
    • © Raymond Lee, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, June 2011
  • Third year

    Bald Eagle

    Third year
    • Very large raptor with broad, plank-like wings
    • Large head mostly whitish with dark stripe through eye
    • Dark brown with white mottling on belly and underwings
    • Pale yellow eye and bright yellow feet
    • © Raymond Lee, Parkhills, Alberta, Canada, February 2010
  • Fourth year

    Bald Eagle

    Fourth year
    • Large and heavy-bodied
    • Similar to adult but with some dark smudging on white head
    • Heavy yellow bill
    • © Greg Bishop, Merritt Island NWR, Florida, October 2008

Similar Species

  • Adult

    Golden Eagle

    Adult
    • Similar to juvenile Bald Eagle but more streamlined with smaller head
    • Blonde/golden nape distinctive
    • Dark brown eye
    • Smaller bill than Bald Eagle
    • © Ron Kube, Calgary, Alberta, Canada, March 2011
  • Adult

    Golden Eagle

    Adult
    • Similar to juvenile Bald Eagle but smaller-headed
    • No white on underwings
    • Golden/blonde nape distinctive
    • Holds wings up at slight angle while soaring
    • © B.N. Singh, Blackwater NWR, Maryland, January 2010
  • Immature

    Golden Eagle

    Immature
    • Similar to juvenile Bald Eagle but smaller-headed
    • Golden nape
    • Small white patches in center of underwings
    • © dwaynejava, Amherstburg, Ontario, Canada, November 2010
  • Adult

    Red-tailed Hawk

    Adult
    • Much smaller than Bald Eagle with shorter wings
    • Mostly pale whitish underneath
    • Dark brown band across belly
    • © ashockenberry, Ontario, Canada, September 2008
  • Adult

    Turkey Vulture

    Adult
    • Lankier than Bald Eagle with narrow, two-toned wings
    • Small, unfeathered red head
    • Soars with wings held up in distinctive "v" shape
    • © striatus, Maryland, October 2010
  • Adult

    Black Vulture

    Adult
    • Smaller than Bald Eagle with small head and short tail
    • Solid black overall with pale wing-tips
    • Unfeathered gray head with small bill
    • © Kaustubh Deshpande, Arlington, Texas, May 2009

Similar Species

Turkey Vultures are common, large, and dark soaring birds, but they have much smaller, darker heads than Bald Eagles and they hold their wings in a pronounced V-shape when soaring. They are not steady on the wing and often teeter as they soar, whereas soaring Bald Eagles hold their broader wings flat like a board and are rock steady in the air. Immature Bald Eagles have white mottling below, not the two-toned black and silvery gray of a Turkey Vulture's underwing. Black Vultures have a much shorter tail and smaller head than Bald Eagles. They are solid black underneath, without the mottling of immature Bald Eagles or the white head of adults. In flight, Golden Eagles have smaller heads and seemingly longer tails than Bald Eagles, and they soar with wings slightly raised. Golden Eagles tend to live in more mountainous regions and are particularly scarce in eastern North America. Adult Golden Eagles are dark brown overall, lacking the adult Bald Eagle's white head and tail. Juvenile (first-year) Golden Eagles have large, solid white patches under the wings and a broad white band at the base of the tail—a much more distinct pattern than the diffuse mottling of an immature Bald Eagle. At distance, Red-tailed Hawks have a similar shape to Bald Eagles but their wings are shorter, their heads smaller, and you can usually see that the bird's body and wings are paler than a Bald Eagle.

Find This Bird

To find Bald Eagles, head for water, where the birds are likely to be looking for fish. Nationwide, Bald Eagles are most widespread during winter, where they can be found along coasts, rivers, lakes, and reservoirs in many states. They winter in large numbers at some lakes and national wildlife refuges—this list from the National Wildlife Federation is a good place to start.