Species Spotlight: Bald Eagle


Species Spotlight: Bald Eagle

Written by Janelle Wicks/Photos by Dan Streiffert

Bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) are perhaps the single most recognizable bird in North America. You don’t have to be even a novice birder to be familiar with this national symbol with its iconic white head, large razor-like bill, and powerful yellow talons. These, of course, are the characteristics of an adult individual. Juveniles, on the other hand can prove quite challenging for even an experienced birder. 

Young eagles are often mistaken for golden eagles. Over the last two weeks, this has been happening quite frequently at Refuge Headquarters as 2-3 juvenile bald eagles are hanging around. The morphological traits of a juvenile bald eagle include white mottling or streaking on the neck or breast, the lack of ‘boots’ on their legs, and a difference in beak size with bald eagles being significantly larger. 

Every winter, bald eagle roosting surveys are conducted with oversight by the US Forest Service.  They happen throughout the Harney Basin with one of the locations being Sod House Ranch. A field biologist will arrive on location where eagles are roosting and wait for dawn to break and the eagles to ‘fly out’ to feeding grounds. The eagles at Sod House are assumed to be hunting throughout the floodplain of Malheur Lake during the day. A popular tour during the annual Harney County Bird Festival is a sunrise, roadside eagle fly out along highway 78.  What a sight to see! 

Eagles are well known as piscivorous birds, catching fish with their legs outstretched careening towards the water. They are also opportunistic and will prey on whatever is abundant and east to catch. The eagle pair which returns to P Ranch every year to nest are waterfowl hunters in their own right. It’s not uncommon to see the remnants of a coot or duck leg in their nest. 

Bald eagles will return to the same mate and nest year after year. This can result in rather impressive nests, growing each year during the annual housekeeping. They are long lived birds. The oldest known eagle was 38 years old, having been banded in 1977 and identified when it died in 2015. This means that any given pair of eagles has many breeding seasons to pair up and successfully replace themselves in the population. 

Here at Malheur there are many opportunities to view bald eagles. In addition to winter fly outs from Sod House Ranch and the returning breeding pair at P Ranch you may witness juveniles loafing about at Refuge Headquarters on cool autumn afternoons like we have had recently. 


  • Archives

  • Categories

  • Tags

  • Latest Posts

    Related Posts​