The adult bald eagle is a very large, dark brown to nearly black bird with a white head and tail. Its beak and legs are yellow. The immature bald eagle quickly attains adult size but lacks the white head and tail of the adult. The bald eagle feeds mainly on fish, but eats carrion whenever possible. In winter the bald eagle may kill and eat birds such as gulls and sea ducks.

Nests are usually in tall trees although they may occasionally be on cliffs; the nest is built of branches and sticks and can be very large. The female bald eagle lays 2 (rarely 3) eggs beginning in mid-April. Both the male and female actively hunt and care for the young.

Distribution

The bald eagle breeds from northwestern Alaska, the Mackenzie Delta, the Ungava Peninsula and Newfoundland south to the Gulf of Mexico.

Birds of prey

The bald eagle is one of the largest birds of prey in North America, with a wingspan of around 2 metres - about as wide as a professional basketball player is tall! Bald eagles take about 4 years to reach maturity. The call of a bald eagle is not the high, lonely cry you often hear on TV, but a harsh cackle like "kweek-kik-ik-ik-ik-ik-ik" or a lower "kak-kak-kak."

Bald eagles and other predatory birds are often at the top of the food chain. Toxins get more and more concentrated in animals that approach the top of the food chain, so a healthy population of birds of prey can be a good indicator of overall ecosystem health.