Bald Eagle Nesting & Young
There are an estimated 7,066 nesting pairs of bald eagles, due to the efforts of federal agencies, tribes, state and local governments, conservation groups, universities, corporations, and thousands of individuals.
US map of estimated breeding pairs in each state.
Nests - The shape of the eagle nest or aerie is determined mainly by the branch point where it's built. Sticks placed in tree forks result in cylindrical or conical shaped nests. Disk shaped nests are built on the ground or a tree branch which is nearly level. Bowl shaped nests occur where the tree trunk branches off into smaller upright branches. Inverted cone shaped nest.
Bald eagles build their nests in large trees near rivers or coasts. A typical nest is around 5 feet in diameter. Eagles often use the same nest year after year. Over the years, some nests become enormous, as much as 9 feet in diameter, weighing two tons.
If the nest tree falls or a strong wind blows a nest down, the established pair usually rebuilds at or near the site within a few weeks if it is near the breeding season. A nesting pair will also build a new nest if they feel threatened. Essentially, it's not totally uncommon for eagles to build more than one nest within their nesting territory.
The nest is usually built in a tree, but may be built on a cliff or even on the ground if there are no other options available.
Eagles are territorial during nesting season. They will keep other eagles out of their own nesting territory, which is usually one to two square miles.
Sexual maturity - An eagle reaches sexual maturity at around four or five years of age. At that time, the eagle's energies become concentrated on the effort of finding a mate and raising offspring. Bald eagles mate for life, but when one dies, the survivor will not hesitate to accept a new mate.
During breeding season, both birds protect the nest territory from other eagles and predators.
Mating season - varies greatly by region. In the South it may last from late September through November, while in the Great Plains and Mountain West, it may last from January through March. In Alaska it lasts from late March to early April.
One way to determine the sex of an eagle is to examine its beak. Females have deeper (distance from top to chin) beaks than males.
Pairs of bald eagles have been seen whirling through the air with talons locked together. This could be a form of courtship or a ritualized battle between an intruding eagle and one defending its territory. Whichever it is, eagles do not actually copulate in the air. Copulation usually takes place on a branch near the nest or on the ground.
On rare occasions, bald eagles have remained locked together by their talons long enough to fall to the ground. I received an email telling of two talon locked eagles falling into a bush beside a person's home. They remained locked for about eight hours, and then unlocked and flew away. Another case reported in a Georgia newspaper article, tells of a locked pair falling to the ground in a golf course. They were stunned by the fall and remained locked for several hours. Only after one eagle was touched by a bystander, did they unlock and fly away.
Some eagles do not breed every year. Bald eagles are capable of breeding annually from the age of four, but some of the adults, though paired, seem to choose not to breed. It might be an instinctive decision, based on the weather; availability of nesting sites, or food.
Because an eagle lives up to 30 years in the wild, it has many years in which to produce offspring.
Eggs - In the Vancouver area eggs are laid in late March and early April, while in northern Canada and Alaska eggs are laid in May. In Florida, eggs are laid from November through January.
Eagles lay from one to three eggs. Five to ten days after a successful copulation, the female lays a speckled off-white or buff colored egg about the size of a goose's. The second egg is laid a few days later, followed by a possible third.
Bald eagle nesting seasons
The 35 days of incubation duties are shared by both male and female, but it is the female who spends most of her time on the nest. Trading places on the nest can be a tense time. The brooding parent may have to call for relief, or may be reluctant to leave and have to be pushed off the eggs or young. During incubation, the male bald eagle regularly brings green sprigs of conifer branches to the nest. Why he does this, no one knows, but it could be for deodorizing the nest or possibly providing shade for the eaglets.
During incubation, 98% of the time one parent remains on the nest; not only to keep the eggs warm but to protect them from squirrels, ravens, and gulls which will break open and eat the eggs. If the adults leave the nest unattended too long, it can be consequential for the eggs. Diverse weather conditions could impact the temperature of the eggs; leaving the eggs nonviable.
Eagle Cams updated on 3/27/2015.
FL Eagle Cam Ozzie and Harriet (one chick).
Eagle Cam - Berry College, Mount Berry, GA (2 chicks)
Bald Eagle Cam - PA Game Commission (2 chicks)
Eagle Cam - MN Department of Natural Resources (3 chicks)
Live Eagle Cam - Blackwater Refuge in Cambridge, Maryland (1 chick)
Puget Sound Eagle Cam - Washington Dept. of Fish & Wildlife
Eagle Cam - Outdoor Channel (2 chicks)
Sutton Center Eagle Cam - Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge near Vian, Oklahoma
Alcoa Eagle Cam - Davenport, IA (incubating 1 egg)
Live Streaming Wildlife Cams - Hancock Wildlife Foundation in BC, Canada (Hornby Island, Victoria/Sidney, and Delta OWL nests)
Four separate eagle cams - Channel Islands Bald Eagle Cams provided by the Institute for Wildlife Studies.
Great Horned Owls nesting cam - Two owlets in Savannah, Georgia.
Panda Cam at the San Diego Zoo
Elephant Cam at the San Diego Zoo
Tiger Cam at the San Diego Zoo
Human disturbance can have an impact on the bald eagle, as most of them need some privacy and quiet to breed. People wanting to observe or photograph the eagles can disturb them enough to cause them to abandon a nest. Use binoculars and spotting scopes for viewing, and keep at a reasonable distance.
Bald eagle disturbance sensitivity chart during the nesting cycle.
The eggs hatch in the order they were laid. Eaglets break through the shell by using their egg tooth, a pointed bump on the top of the beak. It can take from twelve to forty-eight hours to hatch after making the first break in the shell (pipping). Once the eggs begin to hatch, the female's vigilance becomes nearly constant. The male provides the majority of the food needed by his rapidly growing family. Eventually the female will take up her share of the hunting, but in the early days, all of her attention is given to the young eaglets in the nest.
Chicks - Sometimes two chicks will survive, but it is not uncommon for the older eaglet to kill the smaller one, especially if the older is a female, as females are consistently larger than males. Should one chick decide to kill its sibling, neither parent will make the slightest effort to stop the fratricide.
Newly hatched, eaglets are soft, grayish-white down covers their small bodies, their wobbly legs are too weak to hold their weight, and their eyes are partially closed eyes, limiting vision. Their only protection is their parents.
Eagles feed their young by shredding pieces of meat from their prey with their beaks. The female gently coaxes her tiny chick to take a morsel of meat from her beak. She will offer food again and again, eating rejected morsels herself, and then tearing off another piece for the eaglet.
While on the nest with very young eaglets, parents move about with their talons balled into fists to avoid accidentally skewering their offspring.
This photo as well as the preceding and proceeding photos were taken from the back deck of a home atop a ridge which surrounds a public park beside a university in the middle of a city. The nesting tree is located in the park at the bottom edge of the ridge. As a result, the height of the nest in the tree matches that of the deck, with 40 - 50 yards between. I asked permission from the homeowners to photograph the eagles. Having nested there for 10+ years, the eagles are very used to people on the deck; they go about their nesting duties and do not pay any attention. (400mm lens, with x2 extender...cropped photos)