Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)

Bald eagle | Photo credit: Andy Morffew

The national bird of the United States since 1782, the bald eagle is the most well-known bird of prey in North America. Like many other species, the majestic bald eagle’s existence was severely threatened by human development, pesticide use, and poaching. Over the past twenty-five years, however, the bald eagle population has recovered thanks to federal legislation, including bans on harmful pesticides such as DDT, as well as public education, and other conservation and rehabilitation efforts. As bald eagle populations stabilized, the species was de-listed from the Endangered Species List in 1995 and removed from the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife in the continental United States in 2007.

Bald eagles measure approximately thirty-six inches tall, with an average wingspan of seven feet. Bald eagles are attractive birds with a brownish-black body, large yellow feet and beak, and a distinctive snow white head, neck, and tail. The bald eagle feeds primarily on fresh carrion and fish, occasionally taking waterfowl and small mammals as well.

Bald eagles are best observed during the winter, when they congregate around lakes, rivers, and reservoirs. Like many bird species, individual bald eagles pair up with a lifelong mate and return annually to the same nesting site. Bald eagles create the largest nests of any bird species–nests estimated to weigh over two tons have been observed! Year after year, the breeding pair adds new material to their existing nest.

Approximately one thousand bald eagles migrate to Texas each year, nesting from December through February. The Vanishing Texas River Cruise on Lake Buchanan in Burnet, Texas, offers bald eagle viewing opportunities from November through March. Overnight camping and other facilities are available in nearby Inks Lake State Park. Some of the best bald eagle viewing in the state, however, is probably at Fairfield Lake State Park where eagle watching tours are held each Saturday from November through February.

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