Scientific Name: Haliaeetus leucocephalus
Classification: Nongame Species
Abundance: Found statewide
Photo: Mark Buckler
One of the largest raptors in North America, the bald eagle weighs 8 to 13 pounds; the female is larger than the male. The wingspan may be 7 or 8 feet across, and the bird’s body can stretch 3 feet from beak to tail. Juveniles are uniformly dark brown or mottled, with dark beaks, talons and eyes. In flight, the underside of the juvenile’s wings may be streaked or mottled with white feathers. The bald eagle isn’t ‘’bald”; its name comes from the white feathers over the entire head. After four to five years, the birds achieve full adult plumage and coloring: a brilliant white head, neck and tail; bright yellow beak and feet; and pale yellow eyes. Bald eagles hold their wings flat when soaring high in the sky, unlike vultures and other large birds whose wings make a slight vee.
The bald eagle prefers habitat near lakes, large rivers, and shorelines of sounds and bays. The bird requires tall, isolated trees for perching and nesting. Its large wings are adapted for catching late-morning and midday thermal updrafts, which give a high-altitude vantage point for seeking out and scavenging fish and other foods. Opportunistic by nature, the eagle is fond of stealing food from ospreys and other birds, and it scavenges the shoreline for dead or dying fish, as well as plucking them live from the water. In winter, when food is scarce, bald eagles consume a wider variety of prey, including water birds, rabbits and carrion. The bald eagle needs a tall, living tree for its huge nest, preferably a tree with a stout vee or several branches making a sturdy crotch. Nests are up to 8 feet wide and 20 feet deep, made of sticks and lined with grasses. Pairs often return and layer new nest material over the old from year to year, with the nest growing in size over time.
Learn more by reading the Bald Eagle Species Profile.
The bald eagle is a nongame species with no open hunting season. In North Carolina, the bald eagle is listed as a threatened species. Under federal and state law, it is illegal for anyone to injure, harass, kill or possess a bird of prey or any parts of a bird of prey. This includes harming or removing a nest. If you find an injured bald eagle, contact the Wildlife Enforcement Division at 1-800-662-7137, or (919) 707-0040 or the US Fish and Wildlife Service at (919) 856-4786
The bald eagle is a federally protected bird. Please contact the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Wildlife Services for any issues with this species. The toll free number is (866) 4USDA-WS (866-487-3297)
In 1982, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission began a “hacking” program, which involved raising eagles in captivity and reintroducing them in the wild. Young eagles were released near Lake Mattamuskeet in Hyde County. Commission biologists monitored the juveniles and in 1984, North Carolina’s first post-DDT wild bald eagle nest was documented 7 miles from the lake.
While Commission biologists no longer raise eagles and release them, they do continue to monitor and identify the locations of new bald eagle nests and provide technical guidance to landowners about how to protect bald eagles and their nesting sites. In most circumstances, biologists are able to work with these landowners to protect the eagle nesting sites without substantially interfering with the landowners’ objectives. They also meet with timber companies to discuss logging operations around eagle nests.
Bald Eagle Species Profile
Wildlife Diversity Program Quarterly Reports
Protected Wildlife Species of North Carolina Listings (PDF)
Immature bald eagle (Photo by: Melissa McGaw/NCWRC)
Bald Eagle (Photo by Mark Buckler)
Bald eagle chicks (Photo by USFWS)